I’m Leavin’ on a Jet Plane

All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go!

The first week of May took Sean and I back to D.C. where we were honored to speak during a forum at the Canadian Embassy entitled, “Healing the Families of Our Fallen, Wounded and Injured.” 

We arrived on Monday afternoon and our dear friend Christina picked us up at the airport.  We walked from Christina’s house down to the Waterfront along the Potomac River.  The weather was perfect:  low  80s, sunny, and a light breeze.  A welcome retreat from SD where we had snow falling on the first of May!  We went to dinner at Old Glory in Georgetown where we ate some of the best barbeque we have ever eaten!  We wandered around the shops in Georgetown and had dessert–chocolate layer cake to DIE for– at Leopold’s before heading home for the night. 

Sean and Christina at the Waterfront

We spent a quiet Tuesday morning at Christina’s before heading into DC for a meeting with one of Senator Boozman’s (AR) staff members regarding the continued need to fund the Vision Center of Excellence.  We also visted with staff from Senator Tim Johnson’s office regarding the ongoing ups and downs, and downs. . . and downs, of Sean’s case.

That evening we attended a screening of the movie Lt. Dan Band For the Common Good at the Embassy.  This movie will be available to view online July 4th and I strongly encourage each one of you to watch this celebration of American heroes!

Theater inside the Canadian Embassy

Jeff and Sean in the Echo Chamber outside the Embassy
Canadian Embassy

On Wednesday we attended the forum at the Embassy which focused on how Canada and the US are finding ways to meet the needs of military families of the wounded and fallen.  The purpose of this event was to present information regarding stress, PTSD, support and healing, but more importantly to share ideas  and gather information about what these families need.

The day was divided into three sections:  Impact of Service Life on the Miltary Family, Survival Instincts:  It Takes a Village, and Testimonials–Grief, Growth, and Grace.  The sessions were built around providing an understanding of the pressures affecting military families–including adolescents and children, and how military families themselves have risen to the challenge of providing assistance to others. 

Throughout the day video clips were shown from Children of Soliders, a documentary by director Claire Corriveau.  I had the opportunity to visit with Ms. Corriveau, a military wife herself, and share how touched I was by her presentations.  Please watch the video for a better understanding of what goes on at home both during deployment and after injury.  Ms. Corriveau also has a video Nomads Land about military spouses which is just as worthwhile.

Support needs to be ongoing from activation through deployment and until the family has settled following reunion.  In our case, when Sean came home, there was no help, no support, no one to even answer my questions while he was sick and still so far from home.  Things are getting better.  New programs have been implemented. But that’s not good enough. 

In our rural state we are on our own.  Nearest VA support group for Sean?  206 miles.  The nearest aftercare program for PTSD with support for family members?  232 miles.  The nearest Wounded Warrior Project regional outlet?  682 miles.  Nearest Army Wounded Warrior Advocate?  187 miles.

I asked Dr. Barb Cohoon, Deputy Director of Government Relations for the National Military Family Association (NMFA) what we can do in our rural area. . . sadly, she couldn’t even recommend any programs from her own organization.  She referred me to the VA or to seek help through TriCare.

The marriage counseling provided to us by the VA involved five sessions with a counselor who spent each hour agreeing with Sean that had I done a better job while he was deployed, our family wouldn’t be so messed up.  I refused to go back.  Now I’m hoping this is not the provider the VA directs me to under the mental health benefit of the Caregiver Program.

CDR Cathy Slaunwhite, our hostess for the day, made a striking reference to the attention given to our million dollar athletes when they are injured.  The entire country rallies around this hero and fans wonder how life will go on if he is not able to play in the next game.  What happens to a soldier injured in war?  Where are our signs proclaiming “Go Military” and “We’re Here for YOU” for heroes much more deserving of our support and respect?  Our service members do not have fortunes to support their families when they cannot return to work. Not every one of them is lucky enough to be seen at a major military medical facility and cannot afford high-priced specialists on their own..

I participated on the last panel and spoke with Mr. Jim Davis, whose son, Cpl. Paul Davis, died in March 2006, when the light armoured vehicle he was travelling in collided with a taxi and then rolled over. Seven others were injured in the accident Kandahar. Paul Davis was married and had two children, aged three and five. Paul’s father says Paul died for a good cause – to push out the Taliban and allow the deserving people of Afghanistan a better life. 

Following Jim’s presentation, and with not a dry eye in the house, I expressed my gratitude for his son and his family. I felt incredibly humbled by his story and no where near worthy of sharing a stage with him. 

I began with a purpose:  to raise awareness that results in change.  I spoke about our lives since Sean was activated in 2005, through deployement, injury in 2006, eventual diagnosis with TBI in 2008, vision loss in 2008, inpatient treatement in 2009 for blind rehab and for PTSD, and the continuing struggle to get him retired from the mililtary.

I explained how people on the outside, even friends and family members, do not understand what goes on in our lives.  The kids say he looks like dad, but he isn’t dad.  The changes aren’t always visible on the outside.  People sometimes say they admire our strength, but on the inside I don’t feel strong.  I feel weak and full of failure.  I talked about how the kids and I have learned to gauge Sean’s moods so we don’t set off his triggers.  We have the responsibility to educate those around us, even family members don’t truly understand because they don’t live it day to day.  I talked about all we have lost, not to be negative, but just to illustrate that it is so much more than an “adjustment” when a soldier comes home disabled. 

  • 3 careers (Fire Department, Army, my teaching career)
  • health
  • friends
  • activites
  • time w/family due to deployment, appointments, and inpatient programs
  • relationships
  • marriage (the shift from partners to caregiver/patient is far from the marriage we used to have)
  • independence
  • self-confidence

I shared what has been reflected in the media lately, that it affects all members of the family.  All three of our children have suffered from and used medication for anxiety and depression.  We have dealt with substance abuse, anger, outbursts, and suicidal thoughts. 

I closed by asking the audience to spread the word and do whatever they can to promote support for families of the military.

Group at the Canadian Embassy
Seated front L-R Commander Cathy Slaunwhite, Jim Davis, Melissa, Sean
Standing far right is Colonel Doug Martin

We visited with several attendees and made wonderful contacts.  I hope to work with Col Doug Martin in the near future as he continues to promote support for service members and their families. 

There goes Prince Charles

Wednesday evening we walked down to Paolos for some delicious Italian food and luckily made it into the restaurant just before the torrential downfall hit.  Best spaghetti and meatballs I a have ever encountered followed by a slice of vanilla lavendar cheesecake.  Divine!

We took a little walking tour of Georgetown, and just in time to see Prince Charles and his motorcade drive by on his way to dinner at Senator Kerry’s house.  Little Secret Service man would only let us within a half block, such was my brush with royalty. 

On Thursday morning Sean and I toured Arlington National Cemetery.  It was a gorgeous day and we loved walking the paths.  Unfortunately, every school within 200 miles was there with their students.  Sean was easily frustrated when they would not pay attention to his cane or things around them.  We did our best to stay aside and let the groups pass. 

We walked down to the newer sections where veterans from the Persian Gulf, OIF and OEF are being buried.  It was touching and heartbreaking.  After letting Sean explore for a while, as I knew it would be healing for him, I had to leave.  The losses are overwhelming.

Sean at Arlington National Cemetery
Tomb of the Unknowns
Large crowds made it difficult to see!

From Arlington we took the Metro to Union Station where we ate lunch at Johnny Rockets (always a favorite) before heading out to Walter Reed to meet with Rosa Hamilton, our FRC. 

Following our meeting with Rosa, we went to the Cannon Building on Capitol Hill to meet with the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs staff members.  When asked what has changed since his testimony last Jaunary Sean replied, “Not one thing.”  Wow.  Seems impossible that it’s been almost a year and a half and we are still at starting block one.  No closer to being out of the military. 

The White House
I am always amazed by the crowds of people. . . so different than the post cards!

Thursday evening we had supper with Jeff Tracey at Chadwicks in Old Town Alexandria. It was fantastic to catch up with a good friend, and it was $5 margarita night!

Sean and Melissa at the Potomac Waterfront in Old Town Alexandria

Friday morning we boarded a plane toward home.  Our trip had been amazing!!  Yet, I was nervous about returing home.  We had already been fighting when it was just the two of us, and I didn’t want the safety net of being busy with friends to end.  More of that to come.

Below are links to the Canadian sites if you are interested in learing more about the Canadian-American partnership.

Canadian Ally

“CanadianAlly is an electronic newsletter maintained by the Canadian Embassy in Washington, DC, designed specifically for an American audience. It presents a comprehensive look at defence and security issues from a variety of key sources. The intent is to give American citizens a better sense of the scope of Canada’s role in North American and Global Security and the War on Terror.”

Government of Canada
Connect 2 Canada
Canada’s network in the United States

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