Revisit the Past

Revisit Camp LejI recently had the honor and privilege of visiting the United States Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune, NC. My husband had been stationed there several years ago. He had many wonderful memories, but the last time he was there and the circumstances leading up to his departure had been heartbreaking and honestly devastating. The last time he was there, he went from preparing for his next deployment to being diagnosed with lymphoma cancer…

Reboot-Refresh: Invisible Wounds Support Group

 

This month, Reboot-Refresh is taking a “field trip”.  We have found out that the documentary, Hell and Back Again, will be coming to Lexington, Kentucky, for one night only. Since the documentary is being presented at the same time we normally meet, we have decided to attend the showing of Hell and Back Again, and then meet afterwards to discuss the film.

We hope you will join us. Here are the details:

The movie is 90 minutes. It is being shown at LexArts, 161 N. Mill Street, Lexington, 40507.  It is free and open to the public. It is being presented by KET as part of the ITVS nationwide Community Cinema program.  We will meet in front of LexArts at 6:00 pm, Thursday, April 19.

Here is some information about our Invisible Wounds Care Group, Reboot-Refresh.   We meet on the third Thursday of each month.  We meet at Southland Christian Church, in Room B133.

Our focus is to support one another and learn to help one another through life after combat.  Many of us are playing a role of primary support for someone who has served in combat at some point in their past.

If you know your loved one is dealing with PTSD or a mild TBI, this group is for you.  If your loved one doesn’t have a diagnosis, but you know life is simply not the same anymore since their return from war, this group is for you.  Statistically, at least 20% of returning troops will have PTSD.  Realistically, everyone who serves will come back changed.

PTSD carries a stigma that we don’t speak of outside our homes. The symptomatic behaviors are often nothing to brag about and we prefer to keep problems to ourselves, hoping and praying that the situation will resolve itself in time. Thousands of veterans return home from war finding themselves unable to fit back into society. These men and women now face a battle on the homefront which can result in broken relationships, substance abuse, mental illness, homelessness, and suicide.

Even if your loved one is seeking treatment, there is much that we, as caregivers, need to learn so that we can help our loved one work towards health and healing.  Often times, our emotional reaction to what is happening will make the situation far worse.  You may even find that you are exhibiting symptoms of Secondary Traumatic Stress and you probably feel overwhelmed and at a loss as to how to get any help for yourself.

We are not experts, but we are survivors.  The purpose of this care group is to provide a safe atmosphere in which participants can share their hearts and their struggles. We have all experienced the spiritual, mental, and emotional battles that come with supporting and loving a combat veteran living with war’s invisible wounds.

We welcome anyone who has already walked this path in supporting a combat veteran.  You can show us some of the lessons and techniques you have learned and teach us to be a better support for our own combat veteran.

If you are a veteran who is willing to share your perspective about living with PTSD, we would welcome your participation and suggestions for helping family members learn to be a better support for their combat veteran.

If you are the parent, spouse, family member, or close friend to one of our nation’s veterans suffering with PTSD and TBI, we hope you will join us on the first and third Thursday nights of each month.  The group will meet monthly, on the third Thursday evening of the month from 6:30 – 8:00 pm.  Childcare is provided.  We will be meeting at Southland Christian Church, Room B133, located at 5001 Harrodsburg Rd., Nicholasville, KY For driving directions, click here.  For a building map, click here.

If you have any questions, please contact Beth at beth@military-missions.org.

Please Don’t Leave Me Homeless

If you live in the Central Kentucky area, there is a very unique opportunity for you to attend an event and show your support for our homeless Veterans tonight.  An Evening of Giving Thanks to our Veterans will be held at the Lexington Opera House. Admission is free.

There is a good chance you don’t know anyone personally who is homeless, but these homeless Veterans have served our nation on your behalf and mine.  It may be difficult for you to understand why so many of our veterans are returning from military service only to find themselves living on the streets, but I’ve met many who have ended up without homes, and given their circumstances, it is easy to see why the numbers of homeless Veterans is growing every day.

From 5:00 pm until 8:00 pm, in the lobby of the Opera House, you can view the art exhibit, Please Don’t Leave Me Homeless.  The artwork has been created by Homeless Veterans of Lexington.  Come and meet the artists, hear their stories, and honor their service to our great nation.

Beginning at 8:00 pm, the original, acclaimed play, Please Don’t Call me Homeless….I Don’t Call You Homed, will be performed by men and women who have been homeless in Lexington.  Come and learn about the reality of what life is like for our Veterans who call the streets of Lexington home.

Appalachian Home holiday wreaths will be available to order. These gifts will brighten your home for the holiday and give a home to homeless Veterans.

This event is sponsored by the Catholic Action Center, Central KY Council for Peace and Justice, Christian Appalachian Project’s Appalachian Home, Divine Providence, Inc.’s Lexington Homeless Veteran’s Program, and Friends of Ending Homelessness for Veterans in our Community.

This is a rare opportunity we have here in Lexington to get to know these heroes.  It’s by the grace of God that you and I have a roof over our heads.  Let’s give thanks for what we have, and let’s come out and support this event. We can help our homeless Veterans to get back on their feet.  I think it is the least we can do after all they have done for us.

Faces of PTSD: Luke Jensen

The article, Serving in Afghanistan turned a tough guy into a nervous wreck, is just one of the many stories out there sharing the reality of PTSD.  Luke Jensen was described as a bull of a man, a former undercover cop, a lover of motorcycles and weightlifting, the person you’d pick to handle a situation…. but when angry Afghans far outnumbered him he had never felt so exposed or so afraid.

Take a few minutes to read this article which shares the story of Luke Jensen’s transformation into the world of PTSD and his battle to recover. This is just one of the thousands of stories that are being played out across our nation.

Click here to read more.

There’s no place like home

As an organization, we’ve been reaching out to our veteran community for almost three years.  We are basically branded as an nonprofit which sends care packages, but as the war continues, and we have more combat veterans returning home with Post Traumatic Stress and mild traumatic brain injuries, we find that we are often called upon to meet the needs of our veteran community.

As it often happens, two weeks ago, we were contacted by a disabled veteran who had been in a hospital situation for a long period of time. We actually met him while volunteering at the VA Medical Center.  We volunteer there on a regular basis in an effort to let the veterans know how much they are appreciated, and to let them know that we are here, waiting for them, in our community, when they are discharged from their hospital stays and ready to get reestablished in the community.

We focus our efforts on those who have been struggling with PTSD and TBI, as well as those who may be dealing with substance abuse issues.  These issues are the signature struggles faced by our veterans, but these issues are often so stigmatized that our veterans won’t ask for help.  Many who return home from combat will turn to alcohol and drugs to deal with their demons of war.  The health care system is overwhelmed with thousands of veterans who need help and there simply aren’t enough providers to deal with the magnitude of this problem.

Our veteran, who we will call Bill, found himself in circumstances which required him to start over with life and he was in need of some basics.  He called asking if we could help him with some basic furnishings such as a bed or a couch.  After talking with this very humble man, we knew we wanted to do more.  We gathered some basics from our own resources and then set out to see where we could find a few more items to get Bill started on his road to a normal life.

Being a small nonprofit, and spending much of our donated funds on postage to send care packages to our deployed troops, we don’t have many resources of our own, but we are really good at finding partners in our community and working with others to make sure that our vets get the support they need.

We were blessed to be able to work directly with Helping Through Him, a ministry of Southland Christian Church, located in Nicholasville, Kentucky.  We submitted a wish list of items that Bill needed and much to our delight, the church was able to provide everything on our list.

A few of us spent time with Bill today. We helped him move some simple furnishings into his new apartment.  We made sure he was set up with some dishes, pots and pans, lamps, and linens.  We were so honored to give something back to this man who had served our nation in a time of war.

As we spent the morning with Bill, we were blessed to get to know this hero in a small way.  He shared honestly about his struggles and it was obvious that he has seen some horrible things in war, which have greatly affected his life. He even talked about the issue of pride and how difficult it was for him to be in this situation where he had to ask for basic necessities just to get started again. He expressed his gratitude repeatedly as we moved each item into his apartment.

After everything was moved in, and we were on our way out the door having said our goodbyes, Bill ran after us and asked us if we would mind if he prayed for us.  We joined hands and stood in a circle with our heads bowed.  Bill thanked God for our help and he thanked the Lord for His faithfulness.  I wept as this humble man, who has given his all for our nation, was so thankful for the few things that we had been able to share with him and how much it meant for him to have a place he could call home. After all this man has done for each of us and this nation, it was the least we can do for him.

Every community in this country has veterans who have served in combat. These men and women are trying to make sense of their lives now that they are back home.  Please pay attention to those around you who might need some encouragement or some real help to get back on their feet. Just let them know they are appreciated and that you care.  If they see that you are genuine, they will reach out and ask you for help when they need it.

If you are looking for a rewarding way to give back, please consider joining us at Military Missions as we help our veterans get back on their feet, one baby step at a time.  You can make a tax deductible donation to help with emergency expenses. You can also donate your gently used household items, or you can simply donate your time. We will likely be helping other veterans get reestablished and we always need volunteers for our activities and events.

As we wiped our tears, hugged our new friend, Bill, and said our farewells, we knew that God had really blessed us with the opportunity to say thanks to one who was willing to stand in the gap for all of us.

Save a life by sharing your story

When it comes to the world of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), the invisible wounds of war, most of us have a tendency not to share our stories.  There is an automatic respect given to those who come home from war with physical wounds, but for those who come home with mental wounds, we often look the other way or make judgments without understanding all the facts.

No one wants to talk about the way life turns out for those living with combat trauma because most of the time, it’s not pretty.

The experts will tell you that up to 20% of our troops are affected, but I beg to differ.  How can anyone serve multiple deployments, or even one deployment, in a war zone and come home unchanged?

The changes may be subtle at first, but for most of us who have a loved one dealing with invisible wounds, we can tell you that sometimes the symptomatic behaviors will come out of nowhere.  Many of us find ourselves trying to get to know a completely different person than the one we relinquished to the War on Terror.

There are countless articles out there to educate us on the symptoms of PTSD and TBI.  If you read enough of these articles, you can list the symptoms in your sleep, but it’s really hard to find someone who can help you learn how to live with the symptoms, especially if you are suffering in silence.

The stigma is stifling, therefore most will never step up and ask for help until the problem has manifested into a level out of control.

When it began to sink in that my son might be dealing with PTSD and TBI, I had no idea what to do.  The incident that we later found to be the cause of his brain injury had taken place almost three years earlier.  The subtle changes crept in and took over before any of us understood what was happening.  We had enough sense to know that three combat deployments must have had an effect on our child, but we had no idea what to do because we have never been to war ourselves.

Because we had no “incident” in the recent past, which defined when a change should have taken place, we began to get frustrated, wondering why he was so easily agitated, and never able to relax.  We took it personally when he overreacted with outbursts of anger, and we found it difficult to be around a once very funny and happy guy who now seemed to be down in the dumps more days than not.  When we tried to talk with him, it was as if reasoning skills had flown out the window and we found that we were growing further and further apart from our son.

The pressure being put on him, by the Marine Corps, to suck it up and get on with life was taking its toll and of course, we were forbidden to call the Marine Corps to get information. For six years, we had been well trained and we knew well that Mommy and Daddy do not call the Marine Corps…..ever!

We were six hundred miles away from our son’s base and we had no idea how we could be of any help from such a distance.  We looked around at the many friends we had with military children and things looked pretty good on their side of the fence.  We were too proud to mention what was going on, especially because we were considered leaders in the military support community.

The sad reality, three years later, is that I now know that each and every one of our friends with military children are all struggling with some aspect of PTSD and/or TBI.  I don’t know a single family with a combat veteran who doesn’t have some sort of struggle.  There was one family who seemed to have the picture perfect soldier, but even he, I just recently found out, is dealing with post traumatic stress.

I’ve been to two funerals for Marines who have committed suicide.  I have one friend whose son died because he took his overprescribed medication just as the VA doctor ordered.  I have another friend who buried his son because his boy took something to help him sleep and escape the nightmares after returning home from his second combat deployment. Another friend’s son is likely headed for divorce, and two vets I’ve known for years, have faced legal issues because their flashbacks took place in public places which landed them in the midst of a crisis with first responders who were not certified with Critical Response Training which would have helped the officers to deal more effectively with the post traumatic stress driving the situation.

The war has changed all of these men.  100% of the families we know have been affected by this war.  That’s a far cry from the 20% we are told about in the news.

I struggled with our little “secret” for at least a year before I finally opened up and admitted life wasn’t perfect for our family.  When I allowed myself to swallow my pride and tell a few close friends what we were dealing with, I was shocked to find out that I was not alone.

I wasn’t glad to find out that others were suffering, but I was empowered to become more transparent.  Having founded a nonprofit, I had been given a voice in the military community, but I had no idea that I might be using that voice to address a battle against the stigma of invisible wounds of war using my own personal experience as the cornerstone.

Allowing myself to tell a friend was just the beginning.  In the two years that followed, I learned how to exercise my rights as a taxpaying American citizen, to contact the many lawmakers we have elected to serve on our behalf and ask them to earn the paycheck I help to fund year in and year out. I learned to step out of my comfort zone and stand toe to toe with the highest ranking Marine officers to expose a problem that was being covered up, ignored, and swept under the rug.  I even hosted a DoD Inspector Generals team meeting in my home for four days when they called me one day, out of the blue, and told me they were interested in talking to me about all the reports I had been filing.

Part of the reason I learned to step into such dangerous territory was because there were others who came before me.  A soldier’s mom took on the Army.  When I read her story in the New York Times, it empowered me to speak up for my own son.  I was still afraid, but I couldn’t let my own kid down especially if someone else’s mom was able to stand up to the system!

Ten years of war has taken its toll.  Troops are suffering.  Their families are suffering.  Most are still silent because they watch the rest of us fight an uphill battle that never seems to end.  For every one of us who stands up to fight for quality health care and respect, there are ten bullies ready and willing to squash our efforts.

Please don’t let that silence you!

If you are dealing with the invisible wounds of war, rather it be personally, or because your loved one has served, please don’t carry this burden alone.  There are thousands upon thousands of us out here who can benefit from the de-stigmatization of PTSD and TBI. We can make a louder noise if we speak out together and with enough persistence, we can demand better care for our combat veterans living with PTSD and TBI.

Please contact us at Military Missions if you need support. We may not have all the answers, but we will sure do our best to help you find the support system you need to live life despite the invisible wounds of war.