The first week in December Sean and I visited the Candian Embassy in Washington, D.C. How in the world do two little South Dakotans wind up at the Canadian Embassy? Last July Sean attended a USABA cycling clinic in Colorado Springs where he was paired with his tandem cycling pilot Jeff Tracey. We met up with Jeff and his wife Katie at their home in Arlington, VA during the BVA Convention in D.C. in August. Katie works for the Canadian Emabassy in D.C. (Katie, I apologize that I don't remember your position.) So. . . when the Embassy announced the Partners in Defence: Battlefield and Long-Term Casualty Care health forum, it was suggested that Sean attend as a guest of the BVA as an OIF veteran.
Tuesday evening we were invited to dinner at the Embassy hosted by Deborah Lyons, Deputy Head of Mission. Ironically, Sean's placecard read Staff Sergeant (ret.) Sean Johnson--it takes the Canadian armed forces to retire him!
Following the meal, Sean was presented with a coin symbolizing the partnership between Canadian and American armed forces. Challenge coins are used as rewards or awards for outstanding service or performance of duty. The coins presented to American service members by the Canadian military are serialized. Sean's coin is number 253 of 750 to represent his date of injury 25 March 2006.
The forum on Wednesday was filled with technoligies available for casualty treatment on and off the battlefield, PTSD treatment, and long-term care including tele-health/e-health technology allowing daily remote contact between patients and their care team.
Anthony Principi, former US Secretary of Veterans Affairs, was the keynote speaker during the luncheon. We shared a table with him and with Art Wu, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Sean was definitely impressed by the company surrounding him.
Initially, I was invited by Lieutenant Colonel Doug Martin to participate on a Q/A panel during the afternoon sessions which later became an invitation to speak and tell our story prior to the panel. I'm used to speaking to six and seven year olds, so an audience of 50 intelligent adults and experts was frightening to say the least. I highlighted the gaps, the misses, the problems we have found acquiring timely and proper medical and mental health care, the strain on the family, loss of jobs, frustrations.
What I took away from this experience was a renewed sense of hope and desire to make a difference, not just in our daily lives, but for those in similar circumstances. Just the other night I spoke with a friend whose husband also has a TBI, PTSD, and has lost an eye and we laughed and cried together over the parallels in our lives. I want to help others like us.
LT COL Martin proposed hosting a seminar for families and caregivers, the part that's left out. He invited me to participate when he gets the idea pulled together. I would be thrilled to participate and include the caregivers I know.
The words that resonnated with me most were spoken by Captain James Dunne (paraphrased) a person with a mild TBI can have a conversation and seem perfectly normal. But you can leave him in the grocery store and he won't be able to find his way out. We find that all the time! Yet friends, family members, and even doctors will say he seems fine, or he doesn't act or talk like he has a brain injury. But I say, spend a week at my house. Live with him. The moment to moment struggles he has have altered his life, and ours, immensely. Ironically, the good days make the bad days seem that much worse.
On Thursday Tom Zampieri took us around to meet with staff from the offices of Senator Isakson, Senator Akaka, Senator Johnson, and Congressman Walz. We also met with Martin Herbert Staff Director, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations for the House Veterans Affairs Committee. These meetings gave us the opportunity to express our concerns regarding transitioning veterans from DoD to VA, the Caregiver Bill, and the Vision Center of Excellence.
While in DC we stayed with our good friend Christina Hitchcock. She welcomed us into her beautiful home, drove us around the city, and relaxed with us at the end of the day. It was a wonderful break from hotel living and gave us a chance to visit and catch up. We talked at length about how we can incorporate more for the caregivers into the BVA. She inspires me to pursue my goal (yet a baby in my mind) of turning things around for veterans' families.
It was an awe inspiring trip for two midwestern kids!
|Embassy balcony with view of Capitol|
|Melissa, Sean, Tom Miller, Tom Zampieri|
|View of Capitol from the Embassy|
|Sean and Jeff Tracey|
|Sean and Tom Zampieri in the|
Cannon House Office Building
(the rotunda where many news crews
film their interviews)
|Outside the Capitol|
|Sean with Anthony Principi, former US Secretary of Veterans Affairs|
|Sean with Art Wu |
Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations for the
Department of Veterans Affairs