Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Guest Blog - Part II

This is the second installment for Michele Rosenthal’s wonderful site about PTSD. She is an excellent writer and is a joy to read. Hers is much better than my ramblings and ranting of a mad man. Her website is http://parasitesofthemind.blogspot.com. Please check out her site because it has tons of helpful information about PTSD.

Guest Blog – Part II

Dealing with the VA is my subject this time around. The problem with informing you on how to deal with the VA is the VA varies so much from state to state. The VA within each state is a separate entity from the Veterans Administration in Washington D.C... What you say? I know this sounds stupid but appears to be how the system operates. To get care, you have to be registered in that state where you live. Therefore, that means if you live in Michigan and spend the winter in Florida then you need to register in both states. In addition, the medical records cannot be accessed from state to state. Each system seems to be independent from each other.

This may sound really messed up but trust me the system is greatly improved from what it was years ago. President Bush put a lot more funding into the system from the previous president. The former head of the VA, James Peake, really made some great changes to the system. He also increased our mileage reimbursement up to the present 41.5 cents a mile. The previous amount had not changed for 30 years. The old reimbursement would not even cover gas for half my trip. Now it covers my gas and leaves a little extra.

I hope that the new VA Secretary Shinseki will keep up the improvements and make life a little easier for us Vets. As I stated in the first blog, veterans who recently returned from a combat zone are eligible for no-cost VA care. They are entitled to five years of free VA care. The five-year “clock” begins with their discharge from the military, not their departure from the combat zone.

Each VA medical center has an enrollment coordinator to provide veterans information about these programs. Veterans may also contact VA’s Health Benefits Service Center at 1-877-222-8387 or visit the VA health eligibility Web site at www.va.gov/healtheligibility.

If you feel you deserve a VA compensation for injuries or PTSD, it is best to get a representative to submit your paperwork and represent you to the VA. The VFW, American Legion, DAV (Disabled American Veterans) and others have representatives. I personally believe the DAV can represent you the best because they are paid employees and not just volunteers that may or may not know the system well. The DAV represented me for my PTSD. I had already had a 30% disability for injuries in Nam since my discharge. Once the paperwork is submitted, HURRY UP AND WAIT. It can take as long as two years for older veterans but I believe the current veterans are getting through much quicker. At some point in this process, they will send you to a Compensation and Pension examination. You are getting close at this point.

Usually you will be rejected the first time so keep pushing for another review. If you are suffering with PTSD, try to get into one of the Post Traumatic Stress Recovery Tracks they run at the VA hospitals. These tracks run from 28 days to two months. It is intensive therapy along with medication adjustments and group therapy. Going through a track will help you get VA compensation. You will also be paid when you go through a track.

You can get up to 75% disability and if you cannot function enough to work, an additional 25% will be added for unemployables. I have an 88 years old WWII veteran in my group therapy that has tried to get unemployables (the word we use is unemployability but I do not think that is a real word). At 88 years of age, he should have unemployability. Sometimes we feel the VA figures, “kill a vet, save a check”.

One thing I forgot to mention in my first blog was about brain injury. They have discovered that big explosions close to you might cause a jarring of the brain. You will not have any external injuries but your brain is injured. These injuries will appear similar to PTSD but can only be detected via an MRI exam. Both PTSD and explosive brain injury can be present in combat veterans. Just something else to consider.

It is a quick overview but I hope some of it helps. Just do not suffer with the problems. Get the help you need and deserve from the VA.

Semper Fi

Monday, March 9, 2009

Guest Blog

Another blogger, Michele Rosenthal, has a wonderful site about PTSD with lots of helpful hints in dealing with the condition. She commented on my site and requested I do a guest topic on her site. I am posting what I sent to her. Her website is http://parasitesofthemind.blogspot.com. Please check out her site because it has tons of helpful information about PTSD. It will take me days to go through all her information.

Guest Blog

Hi,…I am a Vietnam Veteran suffering from PTSD and Michele asked me to write something on her blog. If you are recently back from Iraqi or Afghanistan and you do not feel right mentally, seek help. If your wife, husband, or family thinks you have changed for the worse, seek help. You probably have the beginnings of PTSD so get help ASAP. When you get back from war, you should notice positive changes in your character. However, if the negatives out weight the positives, then seek help.

The VA is offering you returning vets 5 years of fast care in the system. Now what you and I think is fast is not the VA form of fast. At least, do not be afraid to try, and make an appointment to be seen by one of their many Social workers and Shrinks. They will very easily, in most cases, identify if you do or do not have symptoms of PTSD.

I believe that most forms of PTSD from combat manifests itself fairly soon after coming back from combat. We Vietnam Vets did not have that luxury because the mental illness did not exist in the books. The Vietnam Vet brought this problem to the forefront and now it is recognized.

The other form of PTSD manifests itself later in life. Mine took this form. Sure, there were little things that began fairly soon such as the inability to remember peoples names and a heightened sense of awareness of my surrounding. I was able to function in a job and keep jobs. Twenty-seven years later the flashbacks started to occur. Mine started while driving which in itself was a scary adventure. It turns out the reason was certain music from the Vietnam period would trigger my flashback. I would have one a month, and then a couple a month until near the end, I was experiencing two to three per day.

I was seeing body bags and faces of my friends that died. I would dream of “incoming” at night and end up on the floor to be low to the ground. Good sleep turned to bad sleep. The worst thing for me was the fear that I would hurt one of my employees during a flashback.

When I finally sought help, the shrink (she luckily did her internship at the VA) immediately identified it as PTSD. The facility where I worked and was Manager of a large department put me on long-term disability. Behavioral Services put me on medications and began therapy and EMDR treatment. I quickly started to show improvement but not enough to function in a normal world. Hyper-awareness, agoraphobia (fear of leaving your safe zone), depression, anxiety, were all part of the symptoms.

I stepped on a booby-trapped grenade in Nam and developed a fear of even walking in the yard for fear of another explosion. You literally cannot function the way you did before.

Do not let it get to this point. Seek help and get on medications, therapy, group therapy and EMDR. Get a good experienced EMDR therapist but I am sorry to say they are currently rare in the VA system.

Because it was not a recognized diagnosis until late after the Vietnam War, many WWII and Korean War vets developed and have PTSD. In my group therapy, we have one of each from those wars. One of these men had almost 50 jobs in 50 years. He is much better now with meds and therapy. My therapist calls my office in the basement, my cave or safe zone. Do not get stuck in your cave. Seek treatment from the VA immediately.

Next time I will talk about dealing with the VA and what a mess that system is or has been. It is getting better but needs a lot more work.

Semper Fi

Friday, March 6, 2009

Just A Little Cranky

It has been soooooooooo long since my last post. Guess I have been busy with doctor’s appointments, dental visits, helping my sister, playing games on Facebook, and other oddball things.

I developed a rash on my chest and back and the doctors could not identify the cause. Probably Agent Orange raising its ugly head. Two and a half months later, it is getting better but still itches like a son of a gun. The doctor will send me to Ann Arbor VA if it doesn’t improve soon. I just hate that long drive just to have some bumps checked out.

I guess the Benton Harbor VA will finally be getting a regular shrink so we will not have to deal with meeting with him via the TV. It is not a very personal way to deal with a patient via a little TV screen. Of course, the doctor that will be seeing us does not have a very good history with veterans. Some of these guys have been around too long in the VA system and do not have a caring attitude. We need doctors with good bedside manners.

Okay, now is my time to get on my soapbox and spout off. If the VA truly cared about the veterans, they would totally revamp the system. They need to let us go to local doctors, dentists, and hospitals. I have a state of the art hospital only 14 miles away but can only get treatment if it is a life or death situation. To go to the dentist, ophthalmologist x-rays and urgent care, I have to travel 85 miles one way. If I go for my asthma or dermatology then I have to travel 165 miles one way. Now if I need oral surgery, I have to go 225 miles one-way. Look how much they have to pay out just in mileage reimbursement (41 cents/mile).

One person in my group has three appointments this week so that is three full days shot out of his week. Some of us are lucky, we can drive but if you have to use the VA van for Ann Arbor VA that is a two-day trip. In addition, the government has to put you up in a motel for the night. What a waste of money by our government.

Do not get me started on the stimulus package. I will save that for another soapbox day.

Our Korean vet in the group is doing much better on his medication change. I was really getting concerned about his welfare. The new Iraqi vet is really having problems with the Army. He officially is not discharged but has a very high percentage disability from the VA. They made him re-up for another year and report to a base 700 miles away to be evaluated as to whether or not he can stay in the military. He is not able to function anymore in the military so why do they make him go thru hoops just to give him a discharge.

I know, I know, I am a little cranky today but guess I have been in the doldrums of late. All this changing of meds and dealing with the rash kind of gets me down. Do not worry, the guns are safely locked away and the wife has the key.