Saturday, December 20, 2014

Why Do Soldiers Matter So Little to America?

The night the first news story came out about Injured Heroes, Broken Promises was the same night that a grand jury decided not to indite a cop for shooting someone. That was more important than the many lives that are lost to suicide from the neglect of the Army each year. Yes. I put the blame directly on the Army. When my husband had a gun to his head and it still took three months to get an appointment with a psychiatrist I can say that. Not to mention the 22 suicides a day by veterans.


Then there's football.
Thousands of hits the night the story aired compared to hundreds the story got. 

Another Grand Jury didn't indict someone else.

Then there are more riots.

Army/Navy game.

The final Colbert Report.

I shouldn't be writing right now. I'm mad as hell at what our society finds so important. The fact that these soldiers and veterans volunteered to protect our freedoms is of little to no concern to most. It does not affect you. It is no longer interesting. You think someone else will take care of it. Guess what? They're not!

There are so many veteran or soldier organizations that are raising money for this or that. I have reached out to many for help to only be ignored. The CEO of Wounded Warrior Project makes $311,000 a year but the organization has no time to talk to me? That is just one example. Where does all the money go that these non-profits make from grants and donations if not to helping soldiers and veterans? It doesn't take much googling to find information on these charities and how exorbitant salaries can be included as their percentage of funds goes to programs.

I'm not even asking for money. That's the crazy part. All I want is awareness and change in the military for wounded warriors. All I want personally is my One Wish for my husband. Why are these groups so unwilling to share and disseminate information that is there? What are they afraid of? Are they so closed minded that they can only focus on one thing at a time. IAVA does great work like pushing for the Clay Hunt Suicide Act. One Texas IAVA spokesperson made a statement in support of Injured Heroes, Broken Promises but that is the last I've heard of it. That little tiny piece on the news. What many offer are retreats or training. I am certain that many are helped but there are some out there that get no help. They don't fit into the niche market these organizations are targeting.

So here is the problem. These organizations are for veterans. NOT active duty. Active duty are simply left to their own devices and we all assume that they have more help than they need with unlimited resources. That thinking is wrong and needs to be changed. I am not the only one that sees this. There just aren't enough of us to get people to sit up and listen.

Mikey once told me he hated facebook because it was so unintelligent. He said something about the lowest common denominator. I didn't get it at first. So I watched and posted different types of stories. Humor. Murder. Mayhem. Causes. Health. I tried many different angles. Posts that were stupidly funny get the most attention. Murder and mayhem are right up there. Health is a pretty low because no one really cares about what YOU are going through because they have their own issues. Then there are causes. Causes are the bastard child of Facebook. We all have one and no one seems to care. Unless you do something crazy like pour a bucket of ice over your head. Not that ALS is unimportant. I lost someone very dear to ALS. I'm just wondering what it does take to get people's attention.

It takes celebrity. Gary Sinise is supposed to be big into helping soldiers. Montel Williams too. I tried. No response. They really don't have time to deal with an issue this big do they?

When these soldiers or veterans reach out for help, they need it now. It takes a great deal for them to ask. They shouldn't be cast aside onto a waiting list. When a family member reaches out, pleading for help it means they have exhausted all their options and need YOU to step up and do something. When someone asks me for help I find a way no matter how busy I am. I can't do much. I can give them numbers to call and ear to talk to. But I do SOMETHING. I wonder what I could do if I were a celebrity?

I'm tired of lip service. Sitting here in my living room there is nothing I can do. I am a nobody with a big mouth. I won't shut my mouth until there is change or I die. I realize that soldiers make up less than 1% of the population. But that small number is the number that of people that give all American's their freedom. What would we do and where would we be without them? When is America going to start caring?

Just one of so very many wounded soldiers. RIP 2-8-15

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Start or a Smoke Screen - Injured Heroes, Broken Promises

Life moves pretty fast for me because I'm usually working on so many things at once right now. In the last interview I missed an important detail. One that was glaring at me after the segment aired on NBC5-Dallas and printed in the Dallas Morning News.

Col Toner ordered one day of training. ONE day. The points in the training are very important ones. I'm just not sure how much one day can do to actually make any changes.

I am trying to be positive. People are listening. But in the three years that I have been fighting it always seems to be too much listening and not enough action. I spoke to many officers and even more advocacy groups. They all appeared to care but would just send me on to the next person to talk to. Perhaps thinking I would eventually give up and shut up.

Honestly, there are days that I wonder why I keep pushing. Does anyone listen? Does anyone really care? Will anyone actually do anything about it?

In Col. Toner's order he the need for WTU leaders to respect a soldier’s individual requirements and needs. He addresses the issue of profiles which was a very large problem that I had with my husband. *Profiles are what a doctor writes stating in writing what a soldiers limitations are.* When Mikey got to WTU he was issued a standard profile from his WTU assigned doctor that had the same basic information that all the other soldiers got.
Generic profile
Profiles expire every 90 days but they are just reissued without consultation and a new date put in. Below is one of the profiles that was expired by the Brigade Surgeon almost immediately because they did not like it.

Specific profile with more limitations. 
This Doctor had his diagnosis right, Command didn't want to accept it.

Counseling to revoke profile. 
That wasn't the only profile for his dementia that was revoked. They wanted a specific diagnosis as to what type of dementia he had. There is an outline to diagnosis different types of dementia because being as accurate as possible is crucial to proper treatment. That same doctor wrote a memo regarding them wanting a specific diagnosis before they would accept a profile. It was something I already knew. I was able to question their motives as to why they wanted my husband to die so they could have a definitive answer as to the type of dementia. The Brigade commander said he did not realize he would have to be dead and that wasn't their intention.

Had they not expired the profiles he was given and actually followed them things at the WTU would have been so much better. It is a complaint I have heard over and over so I know this is a change that was desperately needed for the wounded soldiers.

I often wonder if anyone from the WTU will call me or reach out to me in some way. They can't take back what they did but people with integrity and desire to make things better might want to apologize to those that were hurt. Not a third party response either. A direct, sincere response.

Senator John Cornyn's letter to the Secretary of the Army was impressive. I will anxiously await any response he might receive.

Here are links to follow up reports that NBC5-Dallas and Dallas Morning News have done since the last post.

Injured Heroes, Broken Promises: Army Orders New Training at Warrior Transition Units

Veteran's Groups Demand Action on WTU Complaints

Army orders new training for transition units after complaints about wounded soldiers' treatment

I hope this issue continues to get attention and awareness is spread so that these changes will be made into permanent policy and future soldiers don't have to suffer. We assume that the wounded get the best treatment when in fact they get little help and support. Share these articles or posts with people you know. Write to your Congressman. These soldiers deserve that much from us.

*Side note*
This should never have been as difficult as it was. For all the backlash that the VA gets they wasted no time on adding dementia to my husbands claim. All the evidence was there. There was no question. No issue. They took 2 days to finish his claim. It took the Army three years, up until 1 week before his retirement to acknowledge he had Lewy Body Dementia.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

One Wish

If there was just one thing that I could ask for, just one wish to come out of the investigations at Fort Hood, it would be to get my husband's rank restored. He has never asked for anything. This is the only thing I ask for him.

The day it was taken from him was probably the worst day of his life. Yes, even worse than being diagnosed with a terminal illness. His stripes were hard earned. He deserved them and surely NEVER deserved to have them taken from him. To be told by his leaders to, "suck it up and get over it." To be called a liar by the Colonel of the Brigade during his appeal. He got promoted twice in just a few months during his last deployment! Don't they think if he could have sucked it up he would have?

I have the medical evidence now to prove that his behavior was not in his control. Yet no one in a leadership position wants to admit their mistake. A mistake that stripped a deserving soldier of his rank. It wasn't just an emblem they took that day. It was his pride. It was part of his will to live.

It was leadership that not only dismissed requests for medical care but chose to ignore the story that was behind the cover of my husbands file. Leadership that disregarded letters written by his superiors and peers that showed my husband's character.

When my husband came out of the Lieutenant Colonel's office I saw unbelievable pain in his eyes. Pain that no one should ever have to look at but I have seen so many times since that day.

There was no fairness to this hearing. Their decision was made long before I ever stated my husband's case. They did not care he had never seen a doctor to be treated for even PTSD much less to find out that he had terminal illness. They simply did not care. 

I will file a request with the Army Review Boards Agency (ARBA.) That takes time and honestly I haven't heard much positive about the process. My husband doesn't have that kind of time left.

My wish is to see his rank restored, along with his dignity and pride before he leaves this world.

Had his leadership and medical providers listened to either one of us he would not have had to wait for 2 years to get a diagnosis. His behavior would have had an explanation. To this day no one has explained to me why he was never referred to mental health or neurology. Not one has apologized for being wrong or said they felt bad that my husband is terminally ill. Had they listened to us his medical board could have been started long before it was. Had they listened we would have had more time to enjoy what time he has left. *See below for evidence*

Time is short now. No one can say for sure how much. His disease is rapid and aggressive. He falls very often and his stubbornness and dignity make that an even bigger issue. He has lost over 50 pounds in four months. He tries to eat but can't or if he does he can't keep it in. His advanced directives are no life saving measures and he has signed a "Do Not Resuscitate" order. All I can do is sit here and hold his hand. I can't say "It's going to be alright." There is nothing right about this.
He tires easily and sleeps most of the day.
His last wish is to get me home to Minnesota. His hospice workers aren't sure that will happen with his rapid decline. As we get closer to the reality I see a little more determination because he "made a promise" and fully intends on keeping it.

These pictures are the result of a recent fall. His illness as well as his overall weakness make falls a big problem.

Letters of character and medical evidence. I have requested the records multiple times that might have his Article 15 and UCMJ actions in it. It has apparently all been lost. Please read and see what you think.

Personal note I received while he was deployed. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Mikey's Musings

From his Facebook posts December 8, 2014
Iraq 2011
FB keeps asking me what's on my mind. Saturday mornings getting up early voluntarily so I wouldn't miss any cartoons. Being on the swingset with a towel draped across my back because I was being Superman and fixin to fly with my cape. Mom sitting beside me in bed singing like an angel till I fell asleep. Dumping a box of cereal into a tupperware container to get the prize at the bottom and then replacing it feeling smug that I got to it before my sister did, and doing the same thing with Cracker Jacks. Dad taking me to Wendy's for a triple cheeseburger after karate. My sister crying when the news guy on TV announced the death of Elvis. Getting a birthday card from Grandma because it always had a $5 bill in it. 5 dollars! Saltwater taffee, tootsie-pops, jawbreakers, the time I was walking to church and I used the money Mom gave me for the collection plate to buy candy at the store that the devil put in between me and the church. The time I disrespected my mother and my dad taught me the definition of the word "terror." Popsicles.Fudgesicles. Cow slobber is gross. Raw sweet corn is awesome. Never throw a cast net over an ocean catfish unless you have the funds to pay for the repairs, they are meaner than mullet. When tourists run screaming when they see a porpoise because they think it's a shark don't say anything, just enjoy the fun. Bread sandwiches. Wearing white pants to try to look like Barry Gibb. Crystal Gayle's hair and pretty much everything else about her. Nap time...

Not knowing that as a redneck I wasn't supposed to have a black kid as my best friend but when his mom stuck her head out the back door when we were playing and hollered "Get your little black butt in here and YOU get your little white butt in here and wash your nasty hands" we raced each other to the bathroom. It was fried chicken night!!! That lady's chicken was worth losing all my credentials as a proper redneck. Waiting not very patiently for Batman and Godzilla and The Justice League. Learning how to spell balonie...bologne...baloney...dang...ok forget that one. In a hurry and about to leave a bar to go to work and seeing Robin for the first time and deciding that being late for work isn't so bad. The sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when I saw the size of her brothers. My sister running down the road and scattering all the bullies that were beating me up after school, getting me home safely, and then beating me up. Learning how to make cinamon toast. Learning how to make egg sandwiches. My sister drinking my buttermilk for me so Grandma would think I got all my nutrients even though I had just removed the heads from her Barbie dolls.
Tonka trucks, Stretch Armstrong, Pong, Asteroids, Nintendo 64, Jacks, hopscotch, backyard football, kick the can/bucket. Fireflies in a jar, dropping slimey frogs down the back of a girl's shirt to see her dancing skills. Digging holes for no reason. Playboy Magazine (shhhhh.) Blanket forts and tree houses. Captain Kirk. PRINCESS LEA omg.

We waited till it was dark outside and then our parents were safe sending us out to go Trick-or-Treating with our plastic pumpkins. And we were perfectly safe, as long as Carol was there. I remember one year some big kids stole my candy and Carol Cat picked up a big stick from somewhere and somehow I ended up with 3X as much candy as I had before they made their mistake. Grandma Turner's chicken and dumplings. Grandma Rocher's gravy. Ray Yongue throwing me off the boat to teach me to swim and sissy jumping out to save me, again. Making the mistake of going on my first distance run with my biological dad Mike Turner and my uncle Joel Turner, falling way behind, turning the final corner back to Grandma Turner's house and a German Shephard jumps up on the chain link fence and WOOFs right beside my ear with some purty and shiny and very sharp looking teeth. I didn't know I also had such sprinting abilities.
A big strong SSG crying while Miss Rikki and I were plugging up a few holes he had acquired during a little altercation because his buddy was being carried out behind us. Having a wall full of post cards, letters, and beautiful pictures from a school-class on a wall in Iraq. Being the most popular boy in town when Robin sent a package.

See also: Mikey's Wit and Wisdom

Friday, December 5, 2014

Our Bio

Michael (Mikey) Howard re-enlisted in the US Army after bugging Robin for a few years before she conceded, thinking he was too old for the Army to take him. He was tired of us watching the news and not doing anything beyond fundraisers, bumper stickers and charity gigs. 
Ft Riley, KS 1985
During the late 1980's he served as an Infantryman in the US Army and left the Army because at the time his color blindness kept him from being a medic. He was planning on Infantry again and was delighted to find he could be a Combat Medic this time. He left in April 2008 and retrained at both Fort Sill, OK and White Sands Missile Range, NM. From there he went to AIT (advanced individual training) where he got his training to be a Combat Medic. He was stationed at Fort Hood, TX as a part of TaskForce ODIN IV in March 2009. Robin left Minnesota to make their home together. Mikey got his orders to deploy to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom within a month of being stationed there. He would leave in July for a 1 year tour and returned in July 2010. While in Iraq he requested to be attached to another unit that would be deploying soon. As soon as he returned he was put into 215th BSB, 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry unit. They were already deploying. He was not allowed to deploy because there is mandatory dwell time (time they are required to be at home) and they didn't want him leaving so soon. In December a meeting was called with the soldiers that remained. They wanted volunteers to go because they didn't have high enough "numbers." Mikey was the only one that raised his hand. (He was on crutches at the time.) He reassured them that he was alright with giving up his time at home, he hadn't re enlisted to sit at home and do nothing and Robin was also okay with the decision. He left for Iraq again on Valentine's Day, February 14, 2011 in support of Operation New Dawn.
July 2009, leaving to Iraq
Back home Robin stayed involved with the Family Readiness Groups and just supporting any military family that might have needed help. She also spent a great deal of time sending as many as 10-12 care packages a week to Mikey and Charlie Medical Company.
Mikey driving one of the MRAP's - Last Convoy out of Iraq at Kuwait border
Mikey left Iraq on December 18, 2011. He was a driver for his Company Commander on the very last convoy out of Iraq. He arrived home to Fort Hood on Christmas Eve. During that deployment he was promoted twice because he was holding a job as an Emergency Care Sergeant while there. First to Corporal and then to Sergeant. His plans upon returning home were to get enough college credits to enter the Army's IPAP program where he would become a Physician's Assistant.
Military Ball Spring 2012
Within months of arriving home he wasn't feeling well. In May he knew something was very wrong and sought medical attention because he felt something was wrong with his brain. He was having problems remembering details and even getting lost on his way to work. Because of his behavioral changes and a new command that did not know who he was and how loyal, dedicated and hard working he was he began getting negative counseling statements. Robin began to be very vocal about all soldiers needing referrals to mental health and neurology upon return from deployment. He was not referred to mental health for 7 months, not until he had a gun to his head to end his pain. Meanwhile his rank was stripped from him and he went back to Specialist Howard. His health continued to deteriorate but most issues were noticed only at home because he did everything he could to hide what he was going through.

In January 2012 he was diagnosed with severe PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder. Mikey disagreed with that diagnosis from the start. After Robin learned all there was to know about PTSD she also disagreed. She began to press harder for an appointment to neurology going so far as to suggest that she thought Mikey had dementia. Their requests were ignored. Robin took Mikey to work every day and stayed with him as much as possible within the limits of protocol. Mikey continued to see Psychologists, Psychiatrists and counselors. He was making no progress in recovery. Robin continued to fight for better care for soldiers suffering invisible wounds as well as provide around the clock care for Mikey. She continuously requested referrals to a neurologist. In March 2012, the psychiatrist told Mikey he was not getting any better and he needed to start the Medical Evaluation Board. We had also requested a transfer into the Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) where he could concentrate on recovery. Mikey was still hoping he would get past whatever was wrong with his brain and return to regular duty to continue his career with the Army he was so loyal to.

He entered into the WTU in July 2013 expecting life to get a little less stressful and be able to work on recovery. What they both found was a system that was broken. Leadership that did not follow the medical advice given to a soldier, several formations a day, stacks of paperwork and more appointments to keep up with than ever before. Still they kept pushing forward looking for answers. At one appointment Robin requested that a sleep study be done. She knew he was having more than PTSD dreams and needed answers. He got the appointment for August 2013. The Doctor for the sleep study told Robin that whatever was going on might partly be psychological but he had something wrong neurologically and needed a neurologist right away. They also found that he was getting 0% sleep. An EEG would later verify that. In December an appointment was made for Mikey to see a neurologist in January 2014.

At that appointment he was told his symptoms pointed to PTSD and not likely dementia because of his age, but he was going to run some tests and would see Mikey back in 3 months. One of those tests was an MRI. Less than one week after the MRI their phone rang. It was the neurologist. Their suspicions had been correct. He had left hippocampal atrophy. Progressive dementia.

Many doctors and tests later all confirmed that he had Lewy Body Dementia. A type of dementia that also has Parkinson's symptoms. The WTU leadership continued to fight against what medical providers were saying and tests were proving. Robin continued to fight back working with people in Washington at both the Pentagon and the Office of the Surgeon General as well as the Southern Regional Medical Command. She never backed down from fighting for what was right for wounded soldiers and continues her fight still. Mikey continued to face punishments for his behavior issues until he medically retired on July 27, 2014. Robin has also started the process to get Mikey's rank reinstated since it was shown to be taken from issues stemming from his disease.
December 1, 2014 Family from Florida visited.
The disease is terminal. There is no cure. There is no treatment. Mikey's health declines steadily while Robin holds on with all she has. Mikey is now under the care of hospice, just a few short months after retirement. Mikey's last wish to get Robin home to Minnesota in his own words, “Ya'll, if it's literally the last good thing I do I will get her back home to you. You have my word.” Robin promises to not let his life be in vain and started “The Warrior Spouse” for other military spouses that may be facing the same caregiving struggles she did. Together they fight for what is right and compassionate for our future wounded soldiers. Today they have seen some of the wrongs they faced corrected. 

Receiving a challenge coin

To find out more please continue to browse the previous posts. 

More on Task Force Odin IV:
Task Force ODIN III was replaced by Task Force ODIN IV, comprised of select individuals selected from across the active Army, Reserves and National Guard to fill slots as pilots, analysts and support operations personnel. Task Force ODIN IV was attached to the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade.

On 24 March 2011, by order of the Secretary of the Army, a Meritorious Unit Commendation was awarded to the US Army Composite Aerial Operations Activity and the US Army Reserve Company, US Army Composite Aerial Operations Activity, for the period from 14 August 2009 to 15 July 2010.

215th BSB:

Meritorious Unit Commendation
Period of service: 8 February 2011 to 18 December 2011
Authority: AR 600-8-22, paragraph 7-15
10 January 2012
Reason: For exceptionally meritorious service. During the period 8 February 2011 to 18 December 2011, Headquarters, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division and its subordinate units displayed exceptionally meritorious service in support of Operation New Dawn. The Brigade superbly accomplished its mission to conduct stability and support operations to strengthen the Iraqi Security Forces, set the conditions for planned military and civil transition throughout the four Southern Providences and assisted in the establishment of the Consulate in Basrah. The unit truly exemplified its "disciplined, vigilant, and professional" motto. Headquarters, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division and its subordinate units' outstanding service and dedication to mission accomplishment are in keeping with the finest traditions and reflect distinct credit upon the unit, United States Division-Center, United States Forces-Iraq and the United States Army.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Helping Someone Who Is Helping Someone

Something happens when a person gets sick. For those living with it, the person that is ill and their caregiver, it is a very noticeable change. People start to fade away. Maybe it's not them. It's probably not them. But it happens. Suddenly the ill person and their caregiver are all alone facing so much alone. They cling to each other as much as possible.

The caregivers life becomes consumed with the one they love, the one they care for. The entirety of their conversations with others are always about the one they take care of. It might stray off that path for a moment but it returns. It is not their fault. No more than a new mother talking constantly about her child and how special they are. It is what we know and thinking beyond that becomes difficult if not impossible.

We often don't reach out for help. Maybe we are afraid of being a burden to feeling like "I've got this." Suddenly we're experiencing something called caregiver stress. It is very real and makes us feel helpless, like we have failed in what we're doing. We can be so overwhelmed that we don't even know what to ask for IF we reach out for help.

The illness doesn't have to be terminal. Many illnesses and injuries require 24 hour care, perhaps even temporarily. Listen hard to what your friends and family are saying. "I'm fine," could mean "I don't want to trouble you, but I'm drowning."

If you want to help the worst question you can ask is "What can I do?" You will most likely here, "We're good." So instead of asking, just do. Not sure what to do? Check out this list and base your choices on what you know about the family.

Bring them meals (Cooking for the holidays? Make some extra for them.)
Gift cards for restaurants
Offer to run errands
Buy them groceries-fresh produce, breads, milk, coffee- staples that run out quickly
Buy them a tank of gas
Mow their lawn
Offer to help clean or hire maid service for a day
Be a handyman
Hire a handyman
Oil Change
Car repair
Vacuum/wash the car
Buy stamps
Laundry, ironing or mending 
Help clean a closet, room or garage
Wash windows
Clean refrigerator
Clean oven
Dust blinds
Wash curtains
Offer pet care/grooming
Offer respite or take the suffering loved one out for a while
Depending on the caregivers age, call, text or Facebook them just to check up on them.

Keep these very important things in mind:

If you want to visit don't make it a surprise. Call ahead. Don't overstay your visit. (We get tired quickly.)

If you have a visit scheduled don't be hurt if the person cancels it. They may not be up to it when the time comes. (Happens often.)

If you schedule a visit. Be on time. They are waiting for you. If you are going to be late or have to cancel please let them know.

If you are sick don't go. The last thing a patient and their caregiver needs is someone bringing a bug.

If you schedule anything with a memory impaired person make sure you notify their caregiver too. (PLEASE!)

Don't give advice unless it's asked for. Chances are the caregiver has already tried everything you're going to suggest. (PLEASE.)

Don't be afraid to laugh with them. It's okay. Laughter is the best medicine.

We've recently had meals brought to us and it was so wonderful! I've always been the one to feed others, it is hard being the receiver. Very hard. I am so thankful though. Coffee, a friend brought me a box of my favorite coffee. An amazing gift!

We will be moving back to Minnesota soon. There are so many that will want to visit. We both want to see everyone but are planning on a visiting schedule as both of us will be overwhelmed and tired. So for our Minnesota family and friends, we aren't snubbing you. We also know you will understand the need to schedule visits and have limits so he doesn't get 20 people in one day. There won't be delicious meals or snacks made for you, nor will coffee be made. I'm too tired for that. We still love you though.