Let’s Talk About Veterans

According to the HUD (Housing and Urban Development) there are approximately 40,000  of our 21.8 million veterans in the United States that are considered homeless.  This is about 18% of our total veterans. And yes, this number is terrible.

Of the 21.8 million veterans it is estimated that about 3.2 million of them receive some sort of disability pension. However, to be considered a disabled vet worthy of pension, the individual has to be deemed unable to work by a doctor or be older than 65. There are different programs for different levels of service. Wartime Veterans automatically qualify for higher compensation rates, as well as legally disabled vets. They also cannot be dishonorably discharged to receive benefits/compensation.

Below is a chart of the income limits for veterans. If your income is less than the stated amounts, you will be paid a pension equal to the difference of your income and Aid amounts. I.E. if you are receiving basic pension and your annual income is $10,000 the government will pay you the additional $2868.

2016 Basic / Housebound / Aid and Attendance Income Limits

Veteran Family Status Basic Pension

Income Limit

Housebound

Income Limit

Aid & Attendance

Income Limit

Veteran with no dependents $12,868 $15,725 $21,446
Veteran with a spouse or child* $16,851 $19,710 $25,448
Surviving spouse / death pension $8,630* $10,548 $13,794

*Add $2,198 for each additional child

Our Active Military budget is $597 Billion.

Our VA budget is $182.3 Billion

Our Veterans Reintegration Budget is 36.7 million dollars and is dispersed to about 156 different organizations across the country.

Our Refugee budget is 1.56 Billion

Our Foreign Aid budget is about 50.1 Billion

Our estimated total cost of all Congress BASE Salaries is about $800 million.

Of our 21.8 million veterans, 2.7 million are Iraq/Afghanistan War Veterans. 20% of these veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD. We believe this is nowhere near the number actually suffering as many don’t seek treatment or acknowledge the existence of their mental illness. 260,000 are considered to have traumatic brain injury.

It is estimated that 70% of all veterans are or at some point have been substance abusers. 11% admit to abusing prescription drugs. In 2014 our Veteran suicide rate reach above civilian suicide rates: 20.2 vs. 19.2 per 100,000 people.

However, substance abuse disqualifies a veteran from receiving pension benefits, as does an dishonorable discharge or not being considered disasbled. PTSD is not considered a disabling disease, though it absolutely should be.

There is a serious disconnect in our country on how we treat veterans. We want to give them support but don’t acknowledge the real consequences of wartime. Reintegration needs more money and more resources. We need to focus more on easing the transition between active duty and civilian life so that we can better serve the mental health needs of our veterans. By focusing on providing resources to identify and treat PTSD/GAD/Bipolar/Depression we can easily combat the thousands of homeless/disabled vets in this country.

Mental Health is what is harming our veterans. Budget cuts proposed by both parties in Congress is what is harming our veterans.

But there is hope:

There are numerous bills in house to assist. Some increase pension rates while lowering the thresholds for qualifications. Some are proposing tax credits to landlords who rent to veterans. Many are attempting to convince President Trump not to include the VA in the current hiring freeze so that we may continue to sufficiently serve our veterans.

Please, go to Congress.gov and look up which bills are being introduced. Call your congressmen and tell them to support those that you feel would be beneficial. We the people have the power, but we have to communicate to our representatives what is that we want.

Instead of 20 billion for a wall, tell congress to fund 20 billion to our veterans assistance programs.

 

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Reeling

Hello again!

I’ve been trying to think of content for a new post or where I really wanted to take this blog now that my story was in the works of being turned into a book. At first I though, oh I’ll just casually blog; but then I decided to continue with the theme of mental health/illness. I think it’s important to not only document my experiences but to also share information that I am able to find.

Which brings us to today’s post.

As many of you know I lost my grandmother in January. It was the first time I had had a very close family member pass away and to be honest I haven’t been coping very well.

Prior to her passing I found myself better able to cope with  my depression and anxiety than I am now, and so I reached out to my therapist and we decided to pursue the avenue of medication.

Now I do not like being on medication. I’ve self medicated for years, and only until recently felt the need to stop doing so. I have bad reactions with prescriptions, I don’t remember to take them, I get every side effect they list, and I just generally don’t like it.

However, sometimes even the most put together of us need some help.

To be honest though I wasn’t look for an anti-depressant or something long term, I really just needed something to calm me down when I’m feeling particularly anxious or excited about things.

So we made an appointment. And I stressed about it. In fact, (it was this morning) all morning long I was shaking and light headed and on the verge of tears. I actually did cry in the parking lot before going inside, I was so stressed about the meeting.

I was right to be.

I’ve seen psychiatrists here and there and I know they are all cut of different molds. I also know they are meant to be a bit more logical and scientific than perhaps my therapist, after all they are the phsyical/mental science side of this.

The first thing that threw me off is that you cannot call this office. It’s text only. You text to make an appt. and discuss meds etc. So when I walked in and the receptionist had me check in on the ipad attached to the desk while she made a personal call about her allergies to her doctor, I was little taken aback.

And the office was so stereotypical. Grey walls with yellow lamp lighting, floor to ceiling book cases, blurred glass in the windows. I could already tell the effort to make the place seem “comforting” had been overdone.

I sit in the waiting room for a good 20 minutes and I can hear bits and pieces of somoene’s conversation through a closed door. Which makes me think, great so will people hear mine too?

The doctor calls me back and he and I’m assuming a student proceed to make jokes about the pronunciation of my name all the back to his office. Which thank god has windows, but if he could have found any other certificates or degrees to cover the space on his walls he would have needed to get his attendance rewards from kindergarten, I mean seriously.

The student was never introduced to me or asked if he could be there. He sat in a chair by the doctors desk the entire time taking notes.

But we just jumped right in. Right at the beginning. I told my life story, like I’m so used to doing, and then I mentioned I had a kid…and he pounced.

I spent the next 30 minutes listening to someone talk at me about things that I already knew and was in his office seeking help for. He asked me how I disciplined Jacob. I was honest. I try my best to use Love and Logic but my anxiety and my emotions are heightened at times and I do lo0se my cool and sometimes yell and scream. Jacob gets swats when he is particularly misbehaving but nothing that ever crosses a line.

I informed him that recently I had had suicidal thoughts, or thoughts that Jacob and my husband were better off without me.

His response to all of this was to inform me that I was loving my son with fear and anger and by doing so I was being selfish. He made me feel like my go to response was to scream at him and that this happens in my house hold 80% of the time. He refused to listen to my rebuttals or understand my situation with my son. By the end of the 30 minutes I felt like I should have brought my son into the meeting instead of myself, and I was bawling.

And he continued. I explained that we like to acknowledge Jacob’s emotions and help him to identify and understand where they are coming from, and he looked at me and said “He is three, he is incapable of thought. If anything, when he is upset its because he sees you were upset and thinks its his fault. In his eyes he is god of his world and anything that happens is a direct result of his actions.”

So my son gets angry as a three year old because mommy is upset and he feels like its his fault. Because mommy is anxious and he feels like its his fault. Because mommy has mental illness and he feels like its his fault.

He also told me that if I continued to parent this way and bring my anxious energy into the house, then yes, my husband and son were better of without me.

I spent an hour and a half in that man’s office and he made me second guess every bit of progress I’ve made. He made me second guess all of my values and my capabilities at being a parent and an adult. He made me feel like I was abusive.

And then…instead of listening to me about the medication, he prescribed me Abilify, which is a hardcore antipsychotic.

I have no idea what I’m going to do yet. I don’t even know how to respond quite yet. My brain is still reeling from the events of this afternoon.

It’s like he took all the things I’ve been stressing and anxious about that most people tell me I shouldnt stress over, and basically told me I was right and that I was the shitty parent I believed myself to be.

I have an appointment with my therapist tomorrow, so wish me luck!

Saying Goodbye Part 3

Saturday morning the Doctor came to discuss where we were at in the process. I have a habit of focusing on the logical aspects of emotional situations (sometimes..) and I found myself entranced by the actual process of what was happening.

I had an Aunt who worked in Hospice so I had her on the phone basically giving me a rundown of what to expect. I had read all their pamphlets and googled the process extensively. So when the doctor came in and took her vitals, I already knew where he was headed.

“I firmly believe today is her day.” he said to us. I had a feeling he was right. Her temp was down to 95. Her BP was barely over 48. Her toes were turning blue and her hands and feet were so cold. I became obsessed with checking her status. Ensuring her apnea was still maintaining, ensuring her hands were covered. Every time the nurses came into take care of her, I would make them move her back to the position she usually slept in or as close to as possible. I was determined to do all I could to take care of her, because I guess I thought if I did this it would make up for all the times I wasn’t there. It would make up for all the times I didn’t call. All the times I didn’t write. All the empty broken promises that I had made her over the years.

I began brushing her hair, singing her songs, reading her articles and stories that I could find about different subjects. I even started rubbing lotion on her skin because it was drying out and I didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable.

Saturday went off without much action. Gramps and I were in and out of the hospital. My mother left to take my brother back up to Ocala with her (after my dad drove down to help her). When Gramps and I weren’t there my Aunt Sue would take up post. It became imperative to me that someone was with her at all times. All I could think of was how devastated I would be if she passed without someone there to hold her hand.

Saturday evening rolled around, Gramps wanted to get home early so he could take a nap, and I still hadn’t slept since Thursday night, so I went with him. Saturday was also the day I decided that so long as my grandmother was well cared for (which she was the entire time) I would cling to my grandfather’s hip. He really needed me, we cope in the same way and it was easiest for him to let his guard down with me.

I spent so many nights with my grandparents. Like I’ve said before, they were my rock, my one stable place. Gramps is an early bird. He tends to be in bed about 7-8pm. But Grams would stay up until 1 or 2 am watching English sitcoms. Those were the hours that her and I spent the most one on one time together. We would stay up talking about everything. The last time I had gone to Florida her and I stayed up late talking every night I was there. I learned so much about her. It was the first, and only opportunity I had ever had to actually get to know her on an adult level. And I was amazed at the person she was, the life she had lived.

So, gramps went to bed at his usual time, and I found myself sitting there in her chair, alone on the patio. And that was about the time that I finally broke down and lost it. Everything just came crashing down. She wasn’t there on that patio. She wouldn’t come hobbling out of the back room. I wouldn’t hear her jokingly reprimanding my grandfather for something or laughing at her evil cat. I wouldn’t hear her lecturing me to ensure I rinsed out my dishes and put them in the dishwasher. No more late night ice cream bowls and glasses of chocolate milk. No more hearing stories of her friends or of my childhood. Or hearing her tell me how I should carry a purse.

It was this moment that I realized that I had already lost my grandmother. The woman that lay dying in the hospital was just a shell of who she used to be.

Sunday passed much the same as Saturday. She was still kicking and in fact her BP had actually improved. But I knew it was close. Remember I had done “tons” of research? Many sources said there was a period of increased activity before death. All day Sunday she moaned more, she moved her mouth, her feet and hands would move at occasional intervals. I knew with every move she made that we were getting closer. But instead I pretended she was responding to our conversations and attempting to get involved to the best of her abilities.

Monday morning I had plans to get lunch with my cousin. It was my last day in town and I hadn’t seen her yet. Before I was to meet her though I wanted to go up and say good morning to my grandmother.

Within ten minutes of arriving at the hospital I called my cousin and cancelled. MONDAY was going to be day. Her breathing had changed. It was much more quick and labored. There wasn’t the 30 second delay with a gasp and groan. It was a just a groan. My aunt and I spent the day monitoring her because her face had started to wince and grimace as if she was in pain. They began administering morphine every hour and added another medication on top of it to make her more comfortable. But my time was nearing, I had to leave around 2 so I could go pack and catch my plane back to KC.

I remember everyone was out of the room for a moment; and I leaned in to kiss my grandmother’s forehead. “Grandma, I respect and appreciate that you may want to wait until tomorrow when Jay gets here (everyone thought she was hanging on to see him, he would arriving in town on Tuesday), but Grandma I’m leaving. I have to go back to KC and take care of my boys and I think that it’s been great for Gramps having me here all weekend, but he is really going to need me when you let go. So if you are ready, don’t hang on for us. You go when you’re ready. We will be okay. I promise.”

Emotions were running very high that day as well. My grandfather is  a lot like me, he wants to either run away from the situation or think through all the things that have to be done after so we don’t have to face the present. My aunt on the other hand is NOT like that. He and her were bumping heads all day and there was definitely some tension. It even got to the point where her and I had some words. But it was incredibly important for me to A. moderate the situation so that they could maintain a relationship after this event, because grandma would have wanted that. and B. to maintain a relationship with her myself. ( I add this because it’s actually very common for families to fight and argue in situations like this. and we were NO different.)

Finally around 2pm I had to say goodbye. I tried so hard not to bawl as I kissed her forehead and told her I loved her. I again told her that she could go when she was ready and that I promised I would do my best to take care of grandpa. That we all would. I kissed her one more time and I turned my back on the woman that had been there for me everyday of my entire life. The woman who had put herself out there to my mother when I was a young child and offered to adopt me. The woman who showed me her passion for Jesus and her passion for helping others. The woman who taught me how to be classy but still smart assy.

2:32 pm. my Grandfather and I are doing laundry and gathering my things so we can head out to the airport. The phones rings and it’s my Aunt Sue. I just knew. She had let go.

I firmly believe that my grandmother hung on all weekend so that her and I could spend every minute I had together. I believe that she did not want me to see her actually go, and my grandfather had already expressed in front of her numerous times that he didn’t want to see her dead body. So I think she waited until we left, but let go before I got on that plane so that I could be there for my grandfather in the moment.

And she didn’t die alone. She died with her daughter by her side playing her her favorite church hymn.

My grandfather and I talk every day now. It has become incredibly important for me to ensure that he is taken care of and to ensure that I spend as much time with him as possible before his time with us is up. Thank goodness he is a stubborn, healthy old man.

I am still struggling. I cry randomly. I actually feel like I’m pushing everyone away. I honestly just want to be left alone, but I know that I shouldn’t be like that. I’m irrationally angry about everything, which for me means that I’m depressed. I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression my entire life but I have never felt as depressed as I do now. I’ve never felt as broken and lost as I do now. My chest hurts every day.

I know what they mean now when the say that Death leaves a void in your heart that can’t be filled. It literally feels as though a huge part of my heart is missing.

Because it is.

RIP Gladys Ann Davis. I hope that one day my grandchildren love me as much as I love you.

 

 

Saying Goodbye Part 2

That first night was a doozy.

I severely underestimated the effect being there with my grandmother would have on me.

When we got to the hospice door we were locked out. I had a mini moment of panic that I wouldn’t be able to get in to see her, but after a few phone calls inside a security guard finally came and let us in.

It was oddly empowering really, to be the one to hold her shit together and put a smile on her face. I felt like I was helping everyone around me, their smiles less feeble as the minutes wore on. All except my brother, who was very obviously hurting so very much.

When we got off of the elevator on the hospice floor I allowed everyone to continue on except for him and I pulled him to the side.

“Look at me,” I said. And he looked into my face like he had done so many times before when we were little and I was the sun and moon that taught him how the whole world worked. He was much taller this time, of course, but I knew in this moment I needed to be his big sister. “When we go in there, you have to remember that it isn’t her. This isn’t our grandmother that we know and love. When we walk in there you flood your mind with every good memory you have of her and hold those really close. It isn’t going to be pretty, you will never forget this, but you have to let the good times outweigh this.”

I think I was more trying to convince myself than him.

The hospice ward was really a very peaceful place. Surreal almost as you walked by each door knowing the person inside the room would soon be dead. We got to her room, and honestly it was probably the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever seen.

My grandmother has always been a jolly person. Full of life and happiness. Her eye sparkled (I say eye because one of her eyes underwent a bad lasik surgery and was covered by a glass eye.) and her cheeks were always full of color.

But the woman laying in that bed was not like this at all. Her mouth was hanging open, a breathing tube tightly wrapped around her to keep it in place below her nostrils. Her glass eye refused to close no matter how often you tried to make it. I’ve had dreams more clear than this moment.

I’m not sure why or what overcame me, but as my brother broke down beside her bed I began to talk. I kissed her forehead, smiled and told her I had made it. I thanked her for hanging on until I got there. They had placed in her a medically induced coma, so it wasn’t that she could respond. But I just felt that she could hear.

After a few moments my mother and our friend came into the room. I made a few jokes, we recited a few memories. We caught up a little with her there in the room. Hoping to ease her spirits some. My grandfather was exhausted and declared that he was heading home, and it was about this time that I had made my final decision: I was staying the night. There was no way I was leaving her side. I just remember thinking, what if she dies and no one is here?

It was probably about 2 am when my mother, brother and family friend left to get some sleep. I went to find the nurse so he could administer one more round of pain meds before she and I settled in for the night.

My grandmother had apnea, so her breathing was very sporadic. She would only take a breath every 30 seconds and it would always be a sudden gasp followed by a groan. After first, it was legitimately the most disconcerting sound I’d ever heard. I hated it, it was the sound of nightmares.

But as the night wore on, I found myself constantly making sure she was still breathing. If she didn’t gasp regularly I’d start to panic. I sat there, holding her hand, clinging to every memory of her I could think of. I didn’t beg her to stay. I knew she had been hanging on for so long, fighting the inevitable. I knew it was her time and that there was nothing to be done. Her body was shutting down. All I could do was tell her I loved her and tell her that she was welcome to let go when she felt she was ready.

I knew my words were right, but it still feels, honestly painful, to tell your grandmother that it’s okay to die.

By morning I was sick with stress and grief. I had gotten to the point that I was freaked out and emotionally exhausted and just kept thinking about what would happen if she died while I was by myself there. I was angry that I hadn’t made more time for her and angry that I felt the need to keep it together and be “super strong” for my family. I had called my husband and my best friend a few times. The bestie answered around 2. The husband did not (he is a heavy sleeper).

Finally around 6-6:30 I texted my mom and basically begged her to come back and get me. I wanted a shower and I wanted sleep and I felt like I needed to step away from the situation, which made me feel so guilty, as the situation was my dying grandmother.

By the time my mother got there I was shaking, I had thrown up and I had stressed myself into a fever. I bawled my eyes out when she walked in the room. I’d spent my whole night terrified to leave my grandmother’s side, yet terrified to watch her die.

Death is an interesting adventure for everyone involved…

Blank Pages and Black Pits

I’ve probably been sitting here staring at this screen for some time. The blankness of the page honestly speaks more to how I’m feeling than any words that I could place here. I think I’m slipping again. The inevitable pit that I always seem to find myself slipping into has returned.

You see all these posts on facebook about “Depression Awareness! Depression doesn’t make you weak!” etc. etc. I hate them. I hate every single one of them. I hate the “Make this your status for an hour to raise awareness about depression!”. What is that going to do? Great, we’re all aware that depression exists, but I promise your acknowledgement of it isn’t making me feel any better.

Because for me, Depression IS my weakness. It is this giant aspect of my emotional personality that I cannot control, I cannot pull out of, and sometimes I don’t even want to.

They say “If you can tell that it’s coming, why can’t you just make it stop?”

Picture this:

It’s 5:30. You’re sitting on your bed in your bedroom listening to your son play in the other room. He really is a gem and can make you smile even through the worst of things. Your significant other is being soft spoken because he saw your face when you walked in the door. The lack of sparkle in your eye, the avoidance of eye contact. The way every so often you grimace and your eyes cloud over and he knows that your brain isn’t remotely in the same room as him. You’re casually pinching your fingertips or wringing your hands, just trying to create some semblance of feeling because the feelings inside are mostly just dead. You know that you have responsibilities, dinner needs made, the kid needs a bath and bedtime routine, etc. But the more you think about taking on those tasks the more impossible they seem. Your brain refuses to even focus on what it takes to START the tasks. The reality of the situation is you really want to tell your loved ones to go figure it out on their own while you sit here in silence overthinking everything, trying desperately to either cry or stop crying depending on the moment.

It’s such a vicious, heartbreaking state to be in. Like so many mine comes in cycles. I do great for a few months, and then I slowly feel myself start to crumble. I don’t have any magical advice as to how to get through it. If I did I’d probably be able to save myself.

The reality of Depression is that there really is no getting over it. You have to work through it, train your brain to think positively and hope to God this episode passes.

Which is exactly what I am doing now.