Friday, November 18, 2011

Make The Connection

Make The Connection

Connecting Veterans and their friends and family members with information, resources, and solutions to issues affecting their health, well-being, and everyday lives. Hear inspiring stories of strength. Learn what has worked for other Veterans. Discover positive steps you can take—all in the words of Veterans just like you.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Update time!

While reading my notes I realized it has been a loooooooong time since I gave any real updates, so here goes!

Sean's application to the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) that we worked so hard to submit this spring was rejected in July because he is not an active duty soldier and does not intend to return to active duty status.  Sean was understandably disappointed, but by the time we found out he was not accepted I already had a new seed planted in my brain.

We applied with the Palo Alto VA in California for their Comprehensive Neurological Vision Rehabilitation program for TBI/vision rehab.  In September Sean had the last of the preliminary exams done and his referral was complete.  The facility is undergoing a move, so his intake will likely take place in January.  This program will provide Sean with a thorough two-week evaluation for all health issues, including vision, and up to eight weeks inpatient TBI rehab.

We are incredibly anxious to get this placement under way.  Seven + months have passed since we began the application process with the NICoE.  I realize it is a slow process, but this is getting ridiculous.

As part of his evaluation we are hoping to get an accurate diagnosis to *finally* determine if his vision loss is due to his TBI.  As I've mentioned before, it has been mentioned in his record that his vision loss might be due to conversion disorder.  His primary care doctor and polytrauma doctors do not agree.  The civilian neuro-opthalmologist we saw last spring does not agree.  The VA psychiatrist who completed his neuro psychological evaluation in 2010 does not agree.  However, it seems every doctor who has evaluated Sean for the purposes of his Army MEB/PEB has jumped on the conversion disorder diagnosis.  Several of them believe so strongly after reading his records that they don't take time to do any evaluations or examinations in the office until AFTER they have defined conversion disorder and tried to get us to say we agree. It is still my belief that they are trying to save themselves money by not addressing the vision loss as physical.

Now, if it turns out that he really is suffering from a conversion disorder, then so be it.  We will continue to attend his therapy sessions and address it.  There is no real treatment or cure.  It might get better with therapy and time, it might not. 

The DSM-IV-TR states that conversion symptoms will disappear in most cases within two weeks in those hospitalized.  Follow this link to read more about conversion disorder.  According to Med Line Plus, conversion disorder symptoms usually last for days to weeks and may go away suddenly.  In December, it will have been 3 years since Sean lost his vision.

So. . . we have some fears about how this will affect us.

Since conversion disorder is not a permanent disability, Sean would not be able to get his permanent and total rating from the VA.  He would not qualify for the adaptive housing grant, vehicle grant, or DEA money for the kids for college.  We don't know if it would affect his affiliation with the BVA, but hopefully not unless his vision comes back.  He would not qualify to participate in activities with USABA.  It could affect my status as a caregiver since the primary reason he needs care is for blindness.  It will affect his MEB.  He will not qualify for a guide dog.  

All of these issues are workable and I try not to think about them much. 

Sean already has a list of "failures" he works from.  He can't get his purple heart and has to prove he was injured (again).  He has worked for four years to get his MEB/PEB completed--he can't serve, but he can't get out, and the doctors don't belive him.  He was denied TSGLI because he did not lose his vision within two years of his injury (TSGLI is irrelevant if he has conversion disorder).  Without his permanent and total rating from the VA he cannot use the housing grant to make improvements to the house and he does not qualify for a grant to replace his vehicle.  He had to fight over and over to get his tandem bike approved from the VA.  He has had issues using his GI Bill for his children.  He  had to give up his job.  I gave up mine. 

All of these issues come together in Sean's head to say, "Your injury is not important to us."  He says, "I was promised these benefits in return for my service, but it's their job to review and deny me unless I can prove I deserve it, so what's the point?"

Well, not a bright and sunny post, but this is what is on our minds.  This fall has been very busy, so we are working hard to get back on a schedule and have some down time.  The good news is the bike was finally approved and after some prodding, it was paid for and ordered.  It will be ready for him this spring!

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Love Letter Campaign

Please share and help us tell the Love Stories of heroes and families (like us!) who are building lives together with the visible and invisible injuries of war in their midst!

Today, on Veteran's Day (and ending on Valentine's Day), Family of a Vet is launching The Love Letter Campaign... a campaign to encourage those who love a hero to write a letter sharing their story (where they started, what they've faced together, and why their love endures). It's not just for spouses, but also for parents, siblings, caregivers, and friends. It's about telling the "rest" of our stories... stories that continue despite PTSD, TBI, and the challenges of life after combat.

Here's the main page for the campaign: where you can read more about the project and submit your own letter.  Please share your story with Family of a Vet and share this post to help us spread the word

My letter to Sean is here Being Loved By You.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Veterans Day 2011

"The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive how the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation." General and President George Washington, 1789.

Sean was the Master of Ceremonies at this year's Veterans Day Program in Aberdeen.  He did a fantastic job and I am so proud of him for putting aside his fears and speaking in front of a gymnasium full of people.

Colonel Herman, Sean Johnson, Colonel Holzhauser

 My Favorite Veteran
At the airport the morning Sean left for Iraq August 2005

Receiving Meritorious Service Medal from Captain Vetter

SSG Sean Johnson

Welcome Home May 2007

Veterans in Our Family

Melissa's Family:
Grandfather Harold Anderson US Army WWII
Uncle Brian Anderson US Air Force
Cousin Jason Anderson USMC Iraq
Grandpa Duane Shoemaker's cousin George Shoemaker WWII
Step-Grandfather Paul Cameron US Army WWII
Step-Father James Cameron S.D. National Guard
Uncle Truman Henry USMC
Cousin Jason Engel S.D. National Guard Panama
David Small US Navy
Cousin Michael Small USMC Iraq

Sean's Family:
Grandfather Herbert Ring US Army WWII
Father David Johnson US Air Force
Sean Johnson US Army Reserves Persian Gulf, Hungary, Iraq
Brother Jason Johnson US Army Reserves Iraq

My Grandpa Harold was Eisenhower's flight
mechanic and traveled with him during WWII

I hope I didn't miss anyone.  If I did, please send me a message or leave a note in the comments.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

In Honor of National Family Caregivers Month

Caregiver stress fact sheet from Womens Health
Caregiver stress is the emotional and physical strain of caregiving. It can take many forms. For     instance, you may feel:
  • Frustrated and angry taking care of someone with dementia who often wanders away or becomes easily upset
  • Guilty because you think that you should be able to provide better care, despite all the other things that you have to do
  • Lonely because all the time you spend caregiving has hurt your social life
  • Exhausted when you go to bed at night  
5 Ways to Bring Yourself Back from Burnout by Martha Beck from O, The Oprah Magazine

I believe my stage is "Hitting the Wall."  I did learn that needing less activity and more sleep is normal in this stage--no more guilt!

Relationships and PTSD from the Department of Veterans Affairs

Post-Traumatic Stress and a Traumatic Brain Injury strain a marriage from Veterans Voices

So sad and so true.

DAV Veterans Day 2011 Poster

Click here to download a larger version of the poster below.  DAV Veterans Day 2011 Poster

Check out the DAV poster and look for the pictures below.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Who Says There's Nothing Good on TV?

Extreme Makeover Home Edition--The Hill FamilyActress Glenn Close and the team help build a home for the Hill family.  Allen Hill is a soldier dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.  Watch the episode online.

Oprah's Lifeclass: Puppies Behind Bars (as seen in EMHE)

Our America: Invisible Wounds of War with Lisa Ling
premieres Sunday, November 6th at 9 PM central

Our America: Invisible Wounds of War with Lisa Ling sneak preview

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition “Rise and Honor” A Veterans Day Special
Airs 11-11-11 at 7 PM central

Where Soldiers Come From: It Takes a Village to Fight a War

Heather Courtney's heartfelt documentary about a group of friends in rural America who sign up to go to war is revelatory in its access, insights, and emotional honesty.

Finding Hope in a Darker World

This is a story from American Veteran written by our friend Liesel Mirelli about our friend Dorian Gardner.  We had the pleasure to meet them both at the Blinded Veterans Association Convention in Las Vegas this summer.

Finding Hope in a Darker World Story begins on page 34.

Caregiving and TBI

Caregiving for Someone with a TBI: A Unique Experience
Carolyn Rocchio, a mother and longtime caregiver as well as a nationally recognized advocate, author, and speaker in the field of brain injury, talks with BrainLine about learning to be a caregiver for her son with TBI.

Sarah Wade: A Military Wife and Caregiver's Story
Military wife, caregiver, and brain injury advocate Sarah Wade talks with BrainLine Military about her husband's injuries sustained while combat in Iraq.

Excerpts from BrainLine's webcast Caregiving and TBI: What You Need to Know. You can find other segments from the webcast here.

Burn Pits = Lingering Health Problems for Vets

Congressman: The Military’s Burn Pits Screwed Our Soldiers from Wired

'Burn pits' registry demanded by vets who claim disease links  from St. Louis Beacon

Lawmakers move to create burn pit register from Military Times

Silent Siren

Check out Silent Siren and the fantastic new program to help veterans with PTSD in times of crisis.

November 21, 2007 began the Hill Family’s journey of learning to survive both the visible and invisible wounds of war. On this day, during his second tour in Iraq, SSGT Allen Hill’s vehicle was hit by an IED. The severely wounded soldier returned home to begin his physical recovery, but soon discovered that the invisible wounds of war would further complicate recovery; Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) became Allen’s most debilitating injury.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental illness, and like all mental illnesses, it does not affect only the person suffering; it affects the entire family. Allen and his wife, Gina, are now using their experience to help others who face similar challenges. Their dream to help other families find help and comfort in their local emergency response teams becomes a reality with Silent Siren.

Gina Hill

Friday, November 4, 2011

November is Military Family Appreciation Month

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary




With every step we take on American soil, we tread on ground made safer for us through the invaluable sacrifices of our service members and their families. During Military Family Month, we celebrate the exceptional service, strength, and sacrifice of our military families, whose commitment to our Nation goes above and beyond the call of duty.

Just as our troops embody the courage and character that make America's military the finest in the world, their family members embody the resilience and generosity that make our communities strong. They serve with heroism in their homes and neighborhoods while they are without the comfort of having loved ones nearby. Day after day, week after week, spouses resolutely accomplish the work of two parents, sons and daughters diligently keep up with homework and activities, and parents and grandparents patiently wait for news of their child and grandchild's safe return. To these families, and to those whose service members never come home, we bear a debt that can never be fully repaid.

As Americans, we are at our best when we honor and uphold our obligations to one another and to those who have given so much to our country. Earlier this year, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden challenged all Americans to serve those who sacrifice in our name with the Joining Forces initiative. Joining Forces strives to enlist support for our men and women in uniform and our veterans not only when they are away at war, but at every stage of their lives. My Administration is dedicated to doing more for our military families by enhancing learning opportunities for our military children, championing our military spouses as they advance their careers and education, and providing better mental health counseling to heal the wounds left in war's wake.

Our service members swore an oath to protect and defend, and with each step we take on this land we cherish, we remember our steadfast promise to protect the well-being of the family members they hold dear. Every act of kindness we can offer helps cultivate a culture of support for our military families, and I encourage each American to make a difference in the lives of these patriots.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim November 2011 as Military Family Month. I call on all Americans to honor military families through private actions and public service for the tremendous contributions they make in the support of our service members and our Nation.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand eleven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.


Why YOU Matter!

In honor of National Family Caregivers Month I want to share an inspriational article from Voice of Warriors
Why YOU Matter!

Here is some sage advice from Maxine Thompson and eHow.

How to Be a Caregiver for a Spouse

Take some time this month to appreciate yourself.  Thank you, thank you, thank you for ALL you do!

November is National Family Caregivers Month

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary

Across our country, millions of family members, neighbors, and friends provide care and support for their loved ones during times of need. With profound compassion and selflessness, these caregivers sustain American men, women, and children at their most vulnerable moments, and through their devoted acts, they exemplify the best of the American spirit. During National Family Caregivers Month, we pay tribute to the individuals throughout America who ensure the health and well-being of their relatives and loved ones.
Many of our Nation's family caregivers assist seniors and people with disabilities to help improve their quality of life. Their efforts help deliver short term comfort and security, facilitate social engagement, and help individuals stay in their homes and communities as long as possible. This heroic work is often done while caregivers balance other commitments to their families, jobs, and communities. As these remarkable individuals put their own lives on hold to tend to their family members, it is our responsibility to ensure they do not have to do it alone.
To ease the emotional and financial burdens that can accompany caregiving, my Administration has striven to support family caregivers for the crucial role they perform. Vice President Joe Biden's Middle Class Task Force has focused on the importance or investing in respite care, counseling, and training for individuals who serve aging Americans. These initiatives would give family caregivers a leg up as they continue to support their aging loved ones.
One of our Nation's greatest responsibilities is to ensure our veterans, their families, and their caregivers receive lasting and comprehensive support. Last year, I signed the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act, which helps fulfill this obligation by extending additional assistance to family members who care for severely wounded veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. Our military caregivers exemplify the heroism found not only on the fields of battle, but also in the hearts of those who tend to our wounded warriors when they come home.
As we observe National Family Caregivers Month, we honor the tireless compassion of Americans who heal, comfort, and support our injured, our elders, and people with disabilities. This month and throughout the year, let the quiet perseverance of our family caregivers remind us of the decency and kindness to which we can all aspire.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim November 2011 as National Family Caregivers Month. I encourage all Americans to pay tribute to those who provide for the health and well-being of their family members, friends, and neighbors.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand eleven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.

Additional information is available here:

Caregiver Appreciation Month
Great resources from Army One Source

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Family of a Vet - PTSD, TBI, & Life After Combat 

Promotional Video for FOV. 

**CAUTION: This video contains graphic combat-related images. While it is intended to give people some small understanding of what a year in combat is like, the images may be difficult for some Veterans, etc., to view. If you would like to skip the combat images, go to 3:39 ** (Family Of a Vet, Inc.) is a national non-profit organization dedicated to helping heroes and those who love them learn more about coping with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), TBI (traumatic brain injury) and life after combat.

Family Of a Vet was created by veterans and families FOR veterans and families!

To learn more about, visit us at:

Our Main Website -

On Facebook -

On Twitter -

At our Blog -

On BlogTalk Radio -

Exodus 14:14