Category Archives: veterans

A Busy Month

February 2015 was filled with travel.

I had one day between each trip to unpack, wash laundry, and repack before catching the next flight out.

We started the month with an Operation Heal Our Patriots reunion at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, NC. We reconnected with our friends from Week 7 along with OHOP staff members (thanks, Jean Claude for the delicious meals!) and attended sessions on marriage, TBI, and PTSD.

Read more about Operation Heal Our Patriots:

Video Reuniting Veterans

Military Couples Encouraged, Challenged During Reunion

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Week 7

The following week I flew to DC to participate in the Hidden Heroes Impact Forum for the Elizabeth Dole Foundation along with several other caregivers. The forum brought together members from public, private, and nonprofit organizations to address gaps in services for caregivers, identify the problems, and draft real solutions.

The interest shown by all participants was validating and reassuring. We shared our personal stories and led the discussions regarding our needs and pitfalls in current programs. We worked within our groups to develop viable strategies to start making solid improvements for the caregiver community.

Learn more about the Impact Forums here:

Time to Give Hidden Military Heroes Their Due

Leading Experts and Advocates to Collaborate on Critical Caregiving Issues Through Elizabeth Dole Foundation Impact Councils

Senator Elizabeth Dole Convenes Leading Experts and Advocates Around Critical Caregiving Issues

Hidden Heroes: America’s Military Caregivers

Elizabeth Dole Foundation

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Dole Fellows L to R Melissa Johnson, Jennifer MackInday, Blair Hughes, Shannon Tuimaleali’fano, Virginia Peacock, Jessica Allen, Senator Elizabeth Dole, Melissa Comeau, Emery Popoloski

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Panel Members L to R Melissa Johnson, Betty Easley, Blair Hughes, Virginia Peacock, and moderator Lynda Davis

Sean and I rounded out the month by attending Challenge Aspen Military Opportunities Couples Retreat in Snowmass, CO. Sean had the opportunity to ski with his friend and guide Jeff, and we met several new couples. Cole and I hung out around the lodge and caught up on some reading, writing, and napping. We always love our time in the Snowmass area!

Read more about Challenge Aspen and CAMO:

http://challengeaspen.org/military/

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Sean, Jeff, and Cole

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Sean and Jeff headed out for the afternoon

 


Warrior Games 2014

In September Sean spent two weeks in Colorado Springs training with Team Army at the Olympic Training Center before competing in the Warrior Games. He trained in various track and field events and tandem cycling with pilot Greg Miller.

Sean earned a silver medal in tandem cycling, bronze medal in the 100 meter dash, silver in the 200 meter dash, and a gold medal in the 1500 meter run.

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Sean and Duncan with gold medals from 1500 meter run

Warrior Games September

Sean and Greg Miller tandem racing

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Army shotput team

 

Check out these links for additional information, interviews with Sean, and video footage.

US Army Warrior Transition Command

http://www.wtc.army.mil/

https://www.facebook.com/ArmyWTC

US Paralympics–Team USA

http://www.teamusa.org/warriorgames/

Warrior Games

https://www.facebook.com/WarriorGames

2014 Warrior Games–Cycling Competition

https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=FuLefPFkdBc

Competing at the Warrior Games

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CoZLGqTWfKE

Warrior Games keep blind vet in touch with Army

http://www.argusleader.com/story/news/2014/09/30/games-keep-blind-vet-touch-army/16465753/

Aberdeen man riding into history

http://www.aberdeennews.com/sports/column-aberdeen-man-riding-into-history/article_793d3b7e-2abb-5f5f-9232-b894181314e7.html

Warrior Games possible in Aberdeen veteran’s future

http://m.aberdeennews.com/news/local/warrior-games-possible-in-aberdeen-veteran-s-future/article_a36ed51a-a459-5a69-8e3c-ace5b47e3777.html?mode=jqm

Local veteran to compete in Warrior Games this fall

http://m.aberdeennews.com/news/local/local-veteran-to-compete-in-warrior-games-this-fall/article_0b08cf47-338c-513c-a734-4faf1f935137.html?mode=jqm

Staff Sgt. Sean Johnson – 2014 Warrior Games

http://www.dvidshub.net/video/363748/staff-sgt-sean-johnson-2014-warrior-games#.VCw52_ldWSo

‘You may be Wounded, Ill or Injured but You’re not Defeated,’ tandem cyclist says at US Army Warrior Trials
http://www.dvidshub.net/news/133430/you-may-wounded-ill-injured-but-youre-not-defeated-tandem-cyclist-says-us-army-warrior-trials#.U-qb4vldWSr

Vision impairment won’t stop wounded veteran at Warrior Games Trials
http://www.dvidshub.net/news/133094/vision-impairment-wont-stop-wounded-veteran-warrior-games-trials#.U-qbbfldWSr


Warrior Trials

In June Sean spent two weeks in West Point, NY, along with over 100 other wounded soldiers and veterans, training for and competing in the 2014 Army Warrior trials.  Participants competed in cycling, archery, swimming, sitting volleyball, wheelchair basketball, and track and field events.  Sean earned gold medals in tandem cycling, shot put and discus and silver medals in the 100-meter dash and the 200-meter dash.  He has been selected to compete on Team Army in the Warrior Games this fall against members of the other armed services.  The Warrior Games are a partnership between the Department of Defense and the U.S. Olympic Committee Paralympic Military Program.

“Sports and competition mean a lot. It gives me some direction and some purpose– a goal to achieve– and it keeps me in shape. It keeps me out of mischief,” said SSG Johnson. “It is critical to my recovery and health. It improves my outlook on life and future and gives me a way to give back to the Army and military.”

The 2014 Warrior Games are scheduled for September 28 – October 4 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
Photo Credit:  Teia Atkins

Photo Credit: Teia Atkins

Army Trials Cycling Competition

Photo Credit: Teia Atkins

Day 2 Track and Field

Photo Credit: Todd Weiler

Day 2 Track and Field (1)

Photo Credit: Todd Weiler

Day 2 Track and Field (2)

Photo Credit: Todd Weiler

Army Trials Track Competition (3)

Photo Credit: Chris Roxas

Sean was featured in several articles during the trials:

Warrior Games possible in Aberdeen veteran’s future

Local veteran to compete in Warrior Games this fall

‘You may be Wounded, Ill or Injured but You’re not Defeated,’ tandem cyclist says at US Army Warrior Trials

Vision impairment won’t stop wounded veteran at Warrior Games Trials

For more information on the Warrior Games, please visit the US Army Warrior Transition Command’s website: http://www.wtc.army.mil/warrior_games/index.html


Hidden Heroes

The blisters have nearly healed. It’s been almost three weeks since I traveled DC with a marvelous group of nearly 60 men and women who are part of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s Caregiver Fellows Program.  During this trip I reconnected with old friends and met new friends I’ve only known online.  We spent time sharing our stories and experiences with one another and forging a special bond that can only be felt by those who have been through similar experiences.  And we walked for miles on the endless marble and concrete that is Capitol Hill.

We spent Thursday on Capitol Hill meeting individually with our congressional leaders to present the findings of the newly released RAND study Hidden Heroes:  America’s Military Caregivers and to explain why this study matters, why these statistics are more than numbers on a page, and to give a face to the 5.5 million military and veteran caregivers in our nation.

That morning Senator Patty Murray introduced S.2243 – Military and Veteran Caregiver Services Improvement Act of 2014. A related bill was previously introduced in the House by Representative Elizabeth Etsy. H.R.3383 – Caregivers Expansion and Improvement Act of 2013. You can watch Senator Murry introduce her bill here Murray Introduces Major Military and Veteran Caregiver Bill.

On Friday we attended a Joining Forces event at the White House where First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, along with former First Lady Rosalynn Carter and Senator Dole, announced programs and initiatives designed to support caregivers of the nation’s veterans and active duty service members. You can watch these announcements at this link Support for Military and Veterans’ Caregivers.

While being invited to the White House (and sitting in the front row!) was immensely exciting, the event had a larger impact as I looked around the White House reception and realized that everywhere I looked was the familiar face of a caregiver.  For the first time ever we had a collective voice on a national level, a voice that reached far beyond the walls of the White House into the homes of other caregivers who, like us, have been fighting for years to be heard.

Empowering.  To be part of a group gathered with common concerns and goals working to make changes in our own lives, and the lives of others.  To reflect on the past eight years and recall how utterly alone I felt when this journey started.  To realize, at last, it was time to address the needs of the caregivers.  We will not be still.

Learn more about the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and Hidden Heroes:  The National Coalition for Military Caregivers at www.elizabethdolefoundation.org.

You can read the entire RAND report entitled  Hidden Heroes:  America’s Military Caregivers at this link http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR499.html.

#DoleFellows #hiddenheroes

Cherry Blossoms in full bloom

Cherry Blossoms in full bloom

Dole Fellows with Congresswoman Susan Davis, Senator Elizabeth Dole, and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi

Dole Fellows with Congresswoman Susan Davis, Senator Elizabeth Dole, and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi

White House

The White House

Front and nearly center in the East Room

Front and nearly center in the East Room


I’m melting!

I’m tired, therefore, this post isn’t up to par.  I’m including it simply to satisfy my compulsive need to tell the complete story in chronological order.

Ohhh! You cursed brat! Look what you've done! I'm melting! Melting! Oh, what a world! What a world!

Ohhh! You cursed brat! Look what you’ve done! I’m melting! Melting! Oh, what a world! What a world!!

After nearly seven years (long, incredibly frustrating years), Sean officially retired from the US Army Reserve on February 11, 2014. Hallelujah!

A process that consumed our lives for many years…a bittersweet ending for a soldier who dedicated his life to serving his country…a relief for his wife who has grown weary of fighting systems that should be designed to help.

So, while the Oz saga from Ft. Riley has played itself out and the Wicked Witch has met her demise (if you’ve been following our blog, this makes sense, I swear), it was not without getting in a final jab. I was required to become Sean’s legal guardian in order for him to “obtain any and all retirement benefits during his lifetime” due to an incompetency ruling.

Recap:

March 2007- ineligible for medical board due to “unexplained physical symptoms” (undiagnosed PTSD and TBI)

July 2007 – PTSD diagnosed

December 2007 –  TBI screening

March 2008 – TBI diagnosed, medical evaluation board (MEB) initiated

April 2008 to January 2010- nooooooothing……

January 2010 – testified before House Committee on Veterans Affairs regarding “Seamless Transition” between DoD and VA systems

February to May 2010 – multiple appointments

June to November 2010 – multiple complaints to get MEB paperwork completed

2011 – mostly nothing……

<insert intermission>

January 2012 – OOPS, case was terminated in June 2011 (Ft. Riley claimed we missed a deadline that we were not informed of, we were not notified that the case had been terminated)

June 2012 – records sent to Ft. McCoy to start new MEB under IDES

<insert theme from “Jeopardy”>

February 2013 – records arrived in Ft. Carson

March to May 2013 – repeat all examinations, tests, and paperwork from 2010 as it was all expired

June 2013 – MEB NARSUM sent to Physical Evaluation Board (PEB)

December 2013 – PEB rated 100% vision loss due to TBI, and 70% PTSD

January 2014 – notified that due to incompetency statement in NARSUM a legal guardian would need to be appointed, POA was not sufficient for payment/benefit purposes

February 2014 – officially medically retired

Bout damn time.


Media Links

Fort Hood Sentinel

Army takes 9 medals in cycling at DoD Warrior Games

http://www.forthoodsentinel.com/story.php?id=16081

DVIDS–Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System

Army cyclists roll their way to the podium

https://www.dvidshub.net/news/167733/army-cyclists-roll-their-way-podium#.VZWZxPlViko

Video: Cycling – U.S. Army Veteran Sean Johnson – 2015 Warrior Games

https://www.dvidshub.net/video/409423/cycling-us-army-veteran-sean-johnson-2015-warrior-games#.VZVAyPlViko

Video: 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games WTC Version

https://www.dvidshub.net/video/409422/2015-department-defense-warrior-games-wtc-version#.VZWT6flViko

NPR

Connecticut Woman Creates Non-Profit to Help Military Caregivers

http://wnpr.org/post/connecticut-woman-creates-non-profit-help-military-caregivers#stream/0

Washington Times

Wounded Warrior Caregiving Hero: Meet Melissa Johnson

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/jun/8/wounded-warrior-caregiving-hero-meet-melissa-johns/

Warrior Care Com

2014 Warrior Games–Cycling Competition

https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=FuLefPFkdBc

DOD News

Competing at the Warrior Games

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CoZLGqTWfKE

Argus Leader

Warrior Games keep blind vet in touch with Army

http://www.argusleader.com/story/news/2014/09/30/games-keep-blind-vet-touch-army/16465753/

Aberdeen American News

Aberdeen man riding into history

http://www.aberdeennews.com/sports/column-aberdeen-man-riding-into-history/article_793d3b7e-2abb-5f5f-9232-b894181314e7.html

Warrior Games possible in Aberdeen veteran’s future

http://m.aberdeennews.com/news/local/warrior-games-possible-in-aberdeen-veteran-s-future/article_a36ed51a-a459-5a69-8e3c-ace5b47e3777.html?mode=jqm

Local veteran to compete in Warrior Games this fall

http://m.aberdeennews.com/news/local/local-veteran-to-compete-in-warrior-games-this-fall/article_0b08cf47-338c-513c-a734-4faf1f935137.html?mode=jqm

DVIDS–Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System

Staff Sgt. Sean Johnson – 2014 Warrior Games

http://www.dvidshub.net/video/363748/staff-sgt-sean-johnson-2014-warrior-games#.VCw52_ldWSo

‘You may be Wounded, Ill or Injured but You’re not Defeated,’ tandem cyclist says at US Army Warrior Trials
http://www.dvidshub.net/news/133430/you-may-wounded-ill-injured-but-youre-not-defeated-tandem-cyclist-says-us-army-warrior-trials#.U-qb4vldWSr

Vision impairment won’t stop wounded veteran at Warrior Games Trials
http://www.dvidshub.net/news/133094/vision-impairment-wont-stop-wounded-veteran-warrior-games-trials#.U-qbbfldWSr

Rapid City Journal

Injury gives snowboarder new purpose

http://rapidcityjournal.com/news/local/injury-gives-snowboarder-new-purpose/article_365ea25a-8777-5e94-aa2f-325bfd93641b.html

JOHNSON: Recognizing Military and Veterans Caregiver Month

http://rapidcityjournal.com/news/local/communities/sturgis/johnson-recognizing-military-and-veterans-caregiver-month/article_5470745f-95c8-5b82-bb65-79706c4cee6b.html

The Daily Plainsman

Spirit of Dakota announces nominees

http://www.plainsman.com/v2_news_articles.php?heading=0&story_id=24185&page=75

Finding help at home: Melissa came home, to help Sean come back home

http://www.plainsman.com/v2_news_articles.php?heading=0&page=72&story_id=22598

Aberdeen American News

Aberdeen woman selected for Elizabeth Dole Fellows program

http://www.aberdeennews.com/news/local/aberdeen-woman-selected-for-elizabeth-dole-fellows-program/article_a83bd1db-ad68-570a-92fc-94fec5be9aee.html?_dc=650225048884.7494

Local veterans protest moving county services

http://m.aberdeennews.com/news/local/veterans-protest-moving-county-services/article_383bab94-9353-516e-8ac4-1063a85f1ac3.html?mode=jqm

KDLT News

Purple Heart Recipient Has Home Remodeled

http://www.kdlt.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=29146&Itemid=57

Soldiers Magazine

The Depths of Love:  Chronicling the Journey from Army Spouse to Caregiver

Story by:  Elizabeth M. Collins, Soldiers Live

http://soldiers.dodlive.mil/2013/11/the-depths-of-love-chronicling-the-journey-from-army-spouse-to-caregiver/

Bonus Blog by Brannan Vines:  What I Wish I’d Known When I Started Life as a Caregiver

http://soldiers.dodlive.mil/2013/11/what-i-wish-id-known-when-i-started-life-as-a-caregiver/

To The Point

The Soldiers Who Are Making it Home

with host Warren Olney on  KCRW Radio

On Memorial Day, Americans honor those who have died serving their country, but what about those who’ve survived? The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have the lowest casualty rates of all American conflicts. More than 95% of the wounded are coming home. Many have survived injuries that were deadly in previous wars, but they’ve been left with life-long conditions requiring high-tech medical care. Can the Veterans’ Administration cope with unexpected numbers and very high costs? What about loved ones who’ve become caregivers full time?

http://www.kcrw.com/news/programs/tp/tp130527the_soldiers_who_are

CBS News

Story by: Michelle Miller

Caregivers of US Veterans Bear Scars of War

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/caregivers-of-us-veterans-bear-scars-of-war/

Treating Family Members Suffering from PTSD

http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/treating-family-members-suffering-from-ptsd/

Military.com

Story by: Heather Sweeney and Ward Carroll

Challenges Remain in Warrior Transition Units

http://www.military.com/daily-news/2012/10/24/challenges-remain-in-warrior-transition-units.html

Aberdeen American News

Group working to modify disabled vet’s home in Aberdeen

http://articles.aberdeennews.com/2012-09-26/news/34087491_1_aberdeen-fire-and-rescue-452nd-ordnance-jdh-construction

Six years after injury, Aberdeen soldier awarded Purple Heart

http://articles.aberdeennews.com/2012-02-11/news/31053672_1_aberdeen-soldier-mortar-purple-heart-medal

The Daily Plainsman

Local family joins nationwide campaign:  Love letters tell stories of life after combat

http://www.plainsman.com/v2_news_articles.php?heading=0&story_id=14711&

Nextgov.com

Poorly Networked Systems Leave Vets on Their Own When Seeking Care

Story by:  Bob Brewin

http://www.nextgov.com/health/2010/01/poorly-networked-systems-leave-vets-on-their-own-when-seeking-care/45778


Western Blind Rehabilitation Center

Sean was accepted into the Comprehensive Neurological Vision Rehabilitation (CNVR) program at the Western Blind RehabCenter (WBRC) in Menlo Park, CA.  On February 21st we flew to California to get him admitted into the program.  Through the VA’s Caregiver Program, I was able to spend the first week and a half at the blind center with Sean to help him adjust and to observe the program. 
The staff and program at WBRC were impressive! We both felt at ease and Sean settled into his routine.  His day included:  Manual Skills where he learned woodworking, ceramics, leatherwork, and gardening; Orientation and Mobility which offered a refresher on his mobility and cane skills along with training on the TrekkerBreeze; Living Skills focused on cooking, cleaning, and using devices such as the Milestone to better organize his day; Visual Skills emphasized using the Victor Reader Stream for his audio books as well as using proper lighting and scanning techniques; CNVR training instructed him in use of the iPad and his computer, and introduced him to Interactive Metronome (IM).  IM uses rhythm to help reset the brain’s timing and to improve a variety of functions including memory, concentration, and focus.  Sean will be continuing IM therapy at home.
Before I returned home we took the Caltrain into San Francisco for the day.  We went to Pier 39 and took a boat tour of the bay around Alcatraz and under the Golden Gate Bridge.
I returned for the family training portion of the program on May 9th.  We met with the neurologist and with Dr. Cockerham and discussed the results of the MRI.  The high-resolution MRI did detect areas of brain damage on the right side in the frontal lobe, temporal lobe, and deep white matter.  While there is not visible damage in the occipital lobe (visual center of the brain) vision travels throughout the brain and all parts of the brain play a role in what the brain sees.  Sean’s damage is on the right side, and his weak eye is his left since vision crosses the brain while it travels to the back of the brain.  Testing indicates that Sean receives very little visual information through his left eye.  When presented with a light bar approximately four feet long with flashing lights, Sean’s eyes responded automatically to lights on the right side, but did not respond or “jump” to any stimuli from the center of his body to the left.  While there is no clear “x marks the spot” answer, I respect that there are things medical science cannot explain and that the doctors were up front and honest.  The instructors who worked with Sean every day did not find any indication of conversion disorder.  At this time continued vision rehab, such as the CNVR program, is recommended for possible improvement over time.  Sean will likely return to the WBRC in 8-12 months.

Overall, we were thrilled with the program and found the staff, training, and accommodations to be top notch!  HUGE thanks to John and Dan of the CNVR program, as well as to Nikki, Anita, Paula, Matt, Tony, Nicole, and all the nursing staff (and anyone I forgot)!


Western Blind Rehab Center, Menlo Park, CA
Playing Black Jack
Pier 39
Sea Lions at Pier 39
Golden Gate Bridge
Sean made dinner in Living Skills
Watering his garden
Working in the shop with Tony
Graduation with Program Manager John Kingston
Technology Class with Dan