Emotionally, I think this is going to be harder for me write than I expected..it will probably be easier for me to update as events occur and are fresh, rather than doing it later on and having to re-live them. So, this post will catch you up to present time. Well, from the past week’s events anyways. First though, why am I writing this? Well, to start, I need to get this out. Sometimes, I feel really alone. I have my husband of course, and a few friends from work, but that’s it. No close family, no close friends, no one to talk to. And I can’t continue holding all of this in. Writing has always helped me feel better mentally, so I guess it’s back to the basics for me. Secondly, this story needs to be told. I want others going through this struggle to realize they are not alone, and I hope this brings them some comfort. Thirdly, to bring awareness to PTSD and help others understand how crippling it really is to a person and their family. Before my husband, I had no clue how severe PTSD could get. And to be honest, I don’t even think I 100% believed in it. Don’t get me wrong, I knew and had seen first hand soldiers coming back from war struggling mentally, but the ones I knew always seemed to recover. Long term wise, I didn’t really think PTSD was that much of an issue. I know, that sounds horrible. But until you experience observing PTSD first hand in someone you love, you really have no clue what it can entail.
So, back to Tuesday night…I’m sitting on the floor in the shadow of my broken veteran, curled up into a ball between the bed and the wall. By this time, it’s almost midnight, and I have to be up for work at 5am. Eventually I fall asleep, and wake up the next day feeling uneasy and sick to my stomach, still trying to accept what happened last night. I get to work a few minutes early, and put in a call to my husbands VA Caseworker he has been assigned. We haven’t talked to them yet, but received their card in the mail, so I figured maybe they would be able to offer some advice on what help I could get him. For the past two years, my husband has been in therapy, but not that he is out, he wasn’t offered any transitional therapy services until his first appointment with the VA in January. Anyways, no luck reaching the casework, so I call the VA medical clinic, and try to explain what is going on. I tell them briefly about last night, that he needs therapy ASAP, and cannot wait another 6 weeks to get a referral at his appointment. The woman at the clinic tells me “well he is just going to have to hang in there”, because there is no way of getting therapy until he gets a referral. I hang up the phone and just stare at it. Did she seriously just say that to me? “hang in there?” Does she have a freaking clue what PTSD is and what it can lead to? What the heck kind of training has this agency given their receptionists? Wow. Okay. Deep breaths. Time to go into work, I’ll deal with it on my 30min lunch break.
All morning long as I try my hardest to focus on my work, my mind keeps going back to last night, my husband screaming, the empty look in his eyes, the hysterical crying, and then the nothingness after. My co-workers who share my office can tell I am off, asking me if I’m okay. Great. The last thing I want to do is burden them with my family issues, or let this effect my job. Screw you PTSD, I have worked too hard to get where I am now. Time to focus. I force myself to focus for the rest of the morning, and finally fill a co-worker in on some of the details from last night. She puts me in touch with a friend of hers, who happens to be a psychiatrist for the VA. I call her, she listens to me, and right away you can hear the anger in her voice, telling my how often she sees this and how she hates watching soldiers slip through the cracks and not receive any transitional services. She tells me a few places to try and call, and says she will ensure my husbands caseworker is reached and contacts me.
At this point, all I am trying to do is get my husband into immediate therapy so he doesn’t have to wait until January 17th. That is too far way. I’m scared of what can happen between now and then. What if he becomes suicidal? What do I do then? I spend my 30min lunch break in my car trying to call various resources. No one is able to help. The first recommendation I get is to try to find a Tricare provider (but they are unsure if Tricare even covers therapy) who will provide a few limited sessions. (Here’s the thing. The Army has already tossed him around between multiple therapists, and each time he has to start over, re-telling everything, and any progress he has made is lost. He is unwilling to see a therapist short term, he needs someone who he will be able to see on a regular basis. )The only other recommendation I keep getting is to bring him to the VA Emergency room in Nashville (which is two hours away from our home) so that the on duty psychiatrist can try and put in a referral for therapy services to get him seen sooner. There is no estimate of how long this can take. I explain over and over again that my husband cannot do a 4hr round trip alone (hello, PTSD=road rage and no patience for idiot drivers, not to mention driving in the city). Over and over I hear “oh, well can’t you just call out of work?” Let me explain something to you, as I did each and every one of these people. Our income is already significantly lower than what it was a few months ago. My husband is out of the army and getting half of the pay he was when he was in. I have had to already cut my hours back at work to be able to be home with him more and run his errands with him or for him, and deal with everything at home and registering for school and everything else. Not to mention, whenever I call out of work, I have to use leave. I am a government employee. If I have no leave to take, I don’t get paid. And in the position that I am, people depend on me. I cannot keep missing work. I am a professional, and as much as I love my family, sometimes my mission has to come first if we want to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. That night I go online and chat with the VA’s Veterans Crisis hotline, guess what they suggested? Yup, go to the VA Emergency Room. This must be a standard response they are told to give because literally every person I spoke to at the VA told us to go there.
Okay, rant over, on to the next. I go back to work, and when I get home that night, I log onto Ebenefits (a website for veterans and family members to view appts, see documents, etc) and see that his 1st VA appt for January 17th, has been CANCELLED BY THE VA CLINIC. What??!?!? Are you kidding me? I’ve been on the phone with these people all day and no one cares to mention this to me?? Lovely. I break the news to my husband after all three kiddos are in bed, and he immediately breaks down crying again. (seriously, he has never cried like this before, I am really freaked out now). He lays down on the bed and just starts saying things like “I don’t want to live like this anymore, it’s not fair to you, you guys deserve better, you’re better off without me, why did I have to get hurt, why did other guys get hurt and not have PTSD, why can’t I get over this, why can’t I get help, why did I fight for a country who has turned it’s back on me.” He continued on for awhile..another sleepless night. I get up early the next morning, and call the VA before heading into work. Of course, I’m transferred around a few times, and no one can tell me why his appt. was cancelled because his provider is working that day. They reschedule his appt for 6 WEEKS LATER! Yup, that’s right folks, they reschedule his appt. for February 28th. At this point I’m bawling my eyes out, begging for a therapy referral, telling them neither him or I can wait that long, and I’m scared of what will happen if he doesn’t get help soon. I am transferred to one last person, who says she will call us back later in the day and see if she can get us seen sooner. I head off to work, hopeful that the VA will finally be able to help. No such luck. I call my husband mid-day, who tells me that the VA called back and said all he can do is head to the VA Emergency Room. Sound familiar? *sigh* Okay, fine, that’s what they want, we will make the 4 hr round trip on Saturday. If that means my husband getting help, I’ll do it.
On Friday, we finally hear back from my husbands caseworker. She is surprised but at the same time not, that with his symptoms and history, he has not been given a full 100% rating for his PTSD. She also recommends I apply for the VA Caregiver Stipend to help me recover some of my lost wages and it will pay for my gas money to transport him to his appointments. Sounds great, but I’m not very hopefully given my few but unpromising relations with the VA. She too recommends that we go to the VA Emergency Room and he will receive help there.
Saturday rolls around, and we finally make the 2 hour drive to the VA Emergency room. I had found a civil war relic show online and we stopped by there first, hoping it would lift my husbands spirits a bit. After, we head to the ER. We sign in, just he, myself, and our 5 mo old son. After alittle over half an hour, a nurse comes out and calls him. I stand up and start to walk behind him, and am told “the baby cannot come in here.” Hold on. You all saw me walk in here with him, no one said a word, there are no signs posted, no information about this on your website, and we are here to see a psychiatrist, not for a physical illness. My husband explains that I am his support system, and he needs me in there with him. The nurse says “that’s not going to happen”, and explains that no one under the age of 14 is permitted. I try to call the caseworkers cell phone, no luck. Tommy takes the baby out to the car, and I beg the lady at the front desk to let us in. She won’t. I ask to speak to someone in charge, and she asks if I want to complain. Seriously, no, I’m going to tell them about the fantastic customer service we have received here. (I didn’t say that but I def. was thinking it). She tells me there is no one there on the weekend and gives me a form and an envelope and says I can mail my concerns to patient advocacy. I feel like I am going to throw up. We get out to the car and I call the Veterans Crisis hotline. On the VA’s Facebook page they say that by calling this hotline “support is always available.” The woman answers and I tell her our situation. She tells me to call the ER and ask to talk to the charge nurse (which I was already told by the receptionist there was no one else to talk to), or to call the operator and ask for the AOD (Administrator on Duty) and that they should be able to make an exception given the circumstances. So, I call the AOD. She was not very pleasant from the start, and sounded very annoyed that I had called her. She explained that the policy was to protect our infant (pause..I get and appreciate that they worry about children’s health, but we are going to be going into someone’s office?!?) I beg her to just let the psychiatrist come into the waiting room, or outside, or call us, anything, just to get the referral in. No such luck. Then she crosses the line and starts saying things like “well, don’t you guys have a babysitter, or any family?” And then things like “well Ft. Campbell has psychiatrists and daycare’s ya know.” No shit lady really?!? (pardon me but I’m getting worked up again). She does not at all understand that this is a time sensitive issue, not to mention there is no therapy on post for retirees, at least not without a REFERRAL, which is all we are trying to get. She ends the conversation with me by telling me there’s nothing more she can do. Well, some help she was. I call back the VA Crisis Hotline, and am now bawling. The poor guy who answered the phone tried to help, he even tried calling the AOD and talking to her, explaining how dire the situation was. She apparently also does not understand why my husband won’t just get seen alone. I swear, these people just don’t get what the symptoms of PTSD are. If I am there, I can help keep my husband calm. For the most part, I know the right things to say, the squeeze of the hand, etc, to calm him down. I can also help him answer questions when he gets so frustrated to the point he can’t put his thoughts into words. (Sidenote, anyone who deals with the VA constantly hears how important it is to have a support person and making sure they attend your appointments with you to help answer questions and keep track of everything, so what we are trying to do is not out of the ordinary.) So, Crisis Hotline guy gives us a number to call on Monday after 10am, and says he will put in a note they we called him. He can’t make any promises that this mystery person can help us, but it’s not someone I have called yet so he says it’s worth a shot.
So, now we are home, waiting again, wondering what Monday will bring. In the meantime, I am here, alone, sitting in the dark, praying my husband is able to make it that long. Dear PTSD…please go away, I am tired of living in your shadow.