What Went into My Notice of Disagreement with the Department of Veterans Affairs: Building My Case and Speaking of Support Services Deployment Work

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I’ve wanted to talk for a bit about the intentionality behind pushing (yet again) back on the Department of Veterans Affairs.  When I started this journey back in 2007, there were a number of actions I took two years prior that hurt making my case with the VA and I’m at the point of paying for it now because it’s harder to educate the VA regarding my deployment and the health consequences that came after that experience. I believed a lot of the dangerous cultural aspects of Marine Corps (ie. going to sick call means you are malingering) and let my personal health suffer, in various ways, from the end of the first deployment through the end of the second deployment.

Although I recognized something was wrong with my body from the chest pains that developed in March 2005, I let the setbacks at BAS (battalion aid station) and the staff’s medical incompetence keep me from pushing for a diagnosis.  I wanted to continue my work, and I wanted to go back to Iraq.

I minimized my frustrations to remain deployable.  In particular, I tried to minimize how the chest pains hurt to participate in the Technical Escort school in 2005.  The documentation to attend this school references chest pains as a disqualifying factor (I don’t have information to spell it out verbatim) but I decided to attend anyways.

The Technical Escort course was in Huntsville, Alabama at the time, but it’s now located in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.  I tried pulling information from the Army’s Ft. Leonard Wood website and the Marine Corps detachment page for Ft. Leonard Wood but links for the Technical Escort course are dead right now, so you might need to backtrack if you want to learn more about this education course.

As the only female in my class, I tried–like I often did during my Marine Corps service–to juggle my biological differences against the needs of the Marine Corps.  To reduce the amount of changing time during our first training exercise, I “changed over” in the same room as my male peers.  To protect my privacy, I tried to keep my skivvy shirt (aka a green t-shirt) on under my PICS shirt.  The PICS shirt is worn under the hazmat suit to keep your body cool; it is connected to an ice block and the network of tubing on the shirt allows the cooled water to keep one cool, in our case, during exercises.  During the exercise my body wasn’t cooling down properly, and sure enough, my chest pains kicked in; although it became necessary to reveal to the cadre I suffered from chest pains, I was permitted to stay for the course so long as I didn’t have any other episodes.

The medical staff at Redstone Arsenal took EKG’s while I was there. They were unable to find any underlying issue so I continued with my training, knowing I owed it to the cadre to inform them if something happened again.

I tell you these things because we were all looking in the wrong direction for the source of my chest pains when I was in the Marine Corps; the concern was something was amiss with my heart.  My medical team was not making any connection to the stress of serving in Iraq, and my trust in finding the cause disintegrated significantly.  I started to believe it was something that would just be a lifelong issue so it wasn’t worth my effort to go back to someone who couldn’t tell me what the problem was or how to solve it.  I persevered through it, but the chest pains did not go away.  I took a second set of EKG’s during my second tour in Iraq.  Still no definitive answers.  The chest x-ray didn’t reveal anything either.

When I left the Marine Corps and talked to a civilian medical provider in 2007, she told me the chest pains sounded like they were stress-related as they were not triggered by physical exertion.  I didn’t believe her.  At the time, I told my husband and he didn’t believe her either.  We figured there must have been some environment exposure, but the last few years working with my medical providers here has taught me she was right.

There hasn’t been a good way to explain my first Iraq deployment to the VA though.  My Marine Corps medical record was sparse, and this reality made it quite easy for the VA to say there is no service connection in 2007.  After that frustrating setback, I avoided reaching out to the VA again for years.  I felt it was a continuation of the poor support I had during the Marine Corps.

When I lost Kiernan in November 2015, I watched and felt my life fall apart again for months like it had after returning from Iraq in 2005.  I had the hardest time going to work every day at ASU’s Tempe campus because it was where I saw Kiernan often preceding his death.  The pain it evoked reminded me a lot of the struggle working in and around our command center after Captain Brock’s death.  At the same time, I was finally looking at the US casualties for my deployment. I knew we lost a lot of people on deployment, but it was killing me inside to look at everyone’s photos and reading their stories.  After struggling to fall and stay asleep on numerous occasions and suffering through a chest pain that woke me up in the middle of the night (which feels like a heart attack, by the way!) I spoke with my nurse practitioner for support.

Again, I was not confident anxiety was the root of my chest pains.  I saw a cardiologist last year to rule out any heart issues as I did not have a full cardiac workup while in the Marine Corps.  Three years ago, I would have been too nervous to share these things with you, but if sharing my vulnerabilities helps another veteran (or someone else) who dealt with significant trauma in his or her life, I am happy something positive comes out of this trial.

It is much easier for me to write about my experiences than to verbalize them, which is part of why you’ll never find me in group therapy.  Please do not attack the way in which I share my experiences.  It has been a long process to understand how survivor’s guilt has traveled with me all these years and seeped into how I conduct myself in relationships, personal and professional.  I am better at seeing the situations that trigger my anxiety, but I’ve worked on it for two years now.  I am not an expert at coping and utilizing coping mechanisms or how to communicate your service to others; the tools at my disposal help me focus which has been a big help in constructing my notice of disagreement with the VA, but I can’t say what works for me will be the right solution for someone else.

Just like I had to change my approach regarding my chest pains, I reframed how I discussed my trauma with the VA.  The claims examiner didn’t give me the space to talk at length about the mortar attacks, the activity reports, or Captain Brock’s death when we met.  This information is something other people in the VA’s system need to know.  It’s ridiculous to ask about my childhood experiences, friends, family, work and school successes and failures, but to ask zero questions about my military service is a downright oversight.

Based on my experiences with her, I looked on the VA’s website for regulations on compensation.  If  someone is going to assess me, I know I can’t leave things up to interpretation.  I have to speak the VA’s language if they are going to understand me. The Code of Federal Regulations is something I found to be far more useful than sitting down with the DAV again.  While this might not be true of everyone, the DAV reps have been ineffective middlemen for me.  I brought in my documentation last year and the guy wrote a paragraph for me that I could have written without their involvement.

The local rep I saw cannot help me in this situation because my experiences do not look like anything he would have encountered in Vietnam.  The technology available on my deployment to do my job and to also communicate back home didn’t exist when he served.  I was on the phone at my barracks with my grandmother when the mortar attack that killed Captain Brock impacted on our base.  I had to keep calm with her while not knowing if we sustained any casualties so she wouldn’t freak out.  These are the kind of things that the VA needs to hear directly.  I lived in a world where I had a foot into two different worlds and couldn’t share information about my daily work without compromising our situation and my career.

I used the information below to help me determine how to communicate why my deployment was so stressful and how it affects my life today.  The clarification should also help non-veterans to see why it is harmful to hold stereotypes that veterans are either heroic or broken.  As you can see below, there are varying degrees of functionality for someone dealing with mental conditions.

For anyone who knows me personally or who has read my blog for awhile, you know I kill it in academia.  I graduated with a 3.96 GPA for my first Master’s degree and I am currently working on my second graduate program.  I like the mental challenge and I appreciate the opportunity to better understand society from this perspective.

At the same time, you’ve also had the chance to read how fireworks in my neighborhood brings me right back to the day Captain Brock was killed.  I do like fireworks, but not in close proximity.   I drank three 20 something ounce beers earlier this year shortly before ASU’s October 14th game against Washington because we were going to be around the stadium before the game and around half time.  Although I had the fireworks schedule (which excludes unplanned fireworks for touchdowns), I had trouble calming myself down, worried I’d have a panic attack in front of complete strangers if a firework went off.

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The new packet of information I provided to the VA is substantial, but it was done this way to help clarify why I couldn’t have my deployment and the sensitive nature of this work appropriately compiled in my medical record.  The packet includes:

-An explanation of my job on deployment

-An explanation regarding the classification of my work

-Journal records I kept during the deployment

-Information about software for our job that allows us to constantly receive information from units regarding killed and wounded persons

-A copy of my Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (NAM) citation to show them how the job is explained in euphemistic manner

-Every United States service member’s casualty bio listed on Military Times’ Honor the Fallen webpage for the time period matching my deployment dates listed on the NAM citation and who was killed in the Al Anbar province

-Information about my town’s permitted consumer fireworks timeframes (June 24th-July 6th and again from December 24th-January 3rd)

-Fireworks notifications I receive for permitted public fireworks displays near my home

-Civilian medical records to show my current treatment plan

 

I am proud of the strides I’ve made the last few years in coping better with stress, but I know there is a lot of work remaining.  This reason is why it was appropriate to push back on the VA again.  I need them to see and understand my experiences.  I need them to see what I am working on to process these experiences but it’s only possible if I also let them see the way these issues disrupt my life.

I know what triggers are present for me in my current work and home environment and I have to work through them; some days are just better than others.

I’m sharing them below so you can see these are large and small things; some can be planned for, but others require working through in the moment. 

-Fireworks and sometimes explosions on the news, in movies or on tv shows (reminds me of mortar attacks)

-Losing student veterans to suicide (reminds me of losing service members on deployment)

-Being startled by people when I don’t hear them but suddenly they are near me (reminds me of accidentally running into third country nationals on base)

-Sudden loud noises (again, another mortar-like sound)

-Leaving home for extended trips–>Not really the easiest to explain, but it brings out anxiety in me about “what if something happens while I’m away”.

 

Take care and good night.  Thanks for stopping by.

 

~Cheryl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeking Self-Improvement

Good afternoon, everyone.  I know I’ve stayed under the radar a bit this month, but I am doing well.  Rather recently, I finished the first class of my new degree plan.  At this time, I am still waiting for the grade.  One of the Marine Corps leadership principles is Know Yourself and Seek Self Improvement so I guess I’m not as far off topic from my usual writing subjects.  The reason I felt it was important to share is although I am pursuing my second graduate degree, there is always room for improvement.

Below I’ve provided readability statistics from the draft of a recent paper (1st visual).  My husband pointed out my writing was difficult to read and told me I could check out the readability statistics for my paper.  Don’t laugh, but I didn’t know this tool was a thing in Microsoft Word.  It probably sounds bad to say I’ve used Microsoft Word for years now without exploring the many tools within it, but I also do the same with Microsoft Excel.  (My recently completed course also required learning some skills within Excel…turns out some things that look difficult are exceedingly easy to accomplish.)

The more comforable I am when I write, the more I sound like I talk.  I confronted my husband with numerous commas, rather long sentences, and a slew of passive sentences.  His feedback is why I now know about the readability statistics in Microsoft Word.  I checked out the Flesch readability tests on Wikipedia to gain a general sense of what I was doing wrong to make the appropriate corrections.

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The reading ease didn’t change too significantly but it did drop down a grade level; I also knocked down my percentage of passive sentences.

It’s important to share I felt extremely challenged by this 750-1,000 word writing assignment.  I write a lot.  I like talking a lot.  Am I the only person in class who wants more words to discuss life goals?  Maybe.

I included this blog as part of my discussion in the paper, but I could write a whole paper about this blog and its purpose in my life.  I know more about where I want the trajectory of this blog to go than I do my paid work.  There are constraints in the traditional workforce that don’t bode with my creative spirit; as such, I wasn’t too interested in discussing my lack of clearly defined goals.  I’m here to learn.  Instead I focused on what’s important, my interest in veteran issues.  I spoke about changes to GI Bill benefits and continuing to serve veterans in higher education.  My road map for success in higher education is dependable on significant variables, not all of which are within my control, and I have to be ok with these challenges.

After re-crafting my essay, my paper was free from lots of ‘fluff.’  I took out the transitions spelling out my history with veteran issues because 1) that wasn’t part of the paper criteria to share and 2) I wanted more space to spell out my social entrepreneurship goals regarding this blog.  The fact I am a graduate degree seeking student who already holds a graduate degree doesn’t mean I’m perfect.  My writing skills (and many other skill areas in my life) could use improvement and I’m not ashamed to say self-improvement is important to me.  The Marine Corps taught me to embrace self improvement to become a better leader and I encourage others to seek the same for their personal and professional happiness.

Below are the statistics for the final version of my recently completed essay.  I like the improvements, and now it’s just a waiting game for the grade.

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November Check-In

Good morning, everyone.  It is my hope you do not find my distance away from my writing to be disappointing.  Writing is an activity I enjoy immensely but I have a life outside this piece of the digital world.  Not that I think any less of my audience, I appreciate the time anyone devotes to check out what I have to say, but like everyone else, I have moments in my life where my presence is needed elsewhere.

October called me away with the death of a high school friend.

I was unable to attend her memorial service and it’s been a frustrating part of my life lately.  I missed the funeral services for one of my uncles, my paternal grandfather, and my maternal grandmother over the course of my two deployments and I had always hoped my transition to civilian life would mean I never had to feel that guilt again of not being home to have closure.

From my collegiate studies, I’ve learned death and dying are experienced differently depending on one’s cultural upbringing and personal values.  The notification of her illness in February 2012 left me feeling like we would hardly have any time left together and I was reminded of the feelings going through my own mother’s cancer diagnosis.  As her fight against brain cancer continued, we all saw her proving the doctors wrong day after day.  Cancer was not going to take away her life shortly after she received her diagnosis.  This year, she surpassed the five-year mark since this battle began and the joy I felt is something I don’t think I shared.  I saw this moment as one where she would continue to get stronger and cancer would lose its hold.  Many of us learned of her death the day after her passing and in the short time that has passed, it still does not seem real.

Many of my longtime followers know accepting death is a hard thing for me.  It was too present on my first deployment and in the last couple of years veteran student suicides have become too common a reality in my work life.

In the last couple of months there have been some great changes in the DoD community and Department of Veterans Affairs community worth speaking to but as my regular life consumes me, I recognize I have not given time to writing about those matters.

The Marine Corps now has its first female marine infantry officer.  If you want to read a bit about this change, please check out NPR’s First Female Marine Completes Grueling Infantry Officer Course.  We are still too early to tell how her role in the Marine Corps will shape the changing reality of female representation in the Marine Corps but I hope to see more information as time progresses.

The second matter worth discussing are changes to the GI Bill.  More information is available through the VA’s website at Forever GI Bill-Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act.  The summaries of changes is worth looking at for anyone who is entitled to GI Bill benefits.  I recently attended a training conference, since I am a School Certifying Official, to better understand where things are headed and the timeframe for those changes.

As I continue to use the remainder of my own Post-9/11 GI Bill, I am reminded as well what a privilege it is that others have fought to keep GI Bill entitlement for individuals who served.  This gift, earned through my service, requires respect for our taxpayers’ money.  I treat it well and while I am not always a perfect student, I do make a strong effort to make others proud.  With this funding, I’ve earned two undergraduate degrees, a Master’s degree, and with the remaining portion of my entitlement, I have one month and six days for my second graduate degree.  I started this new program, a Master’s in Public Administration, in October.  (I will also speak more to my new degree at another time.)

My apologies this entry is not a long check-in.  For Veterans’ Day, my family and I are going out to breakfast with a longtime friend and fellow veteran who served in the Air Force.  She knows how much I don’t (and neither does my husband) engage in veteran discounts activities on Veterans’ Day so we are going out to a quiet local restaurant.

Lastly, I also wanted you all to know I submitted my Notice of Disagreement with the Department of Veterans Affairs for the conditions I’ve discussed the last year or so.  This time, I packaged all the casualty data for our fallen service members and tied it together with the work I’ve done with my medical care providers plus the fireworks notifications I receive.  I’m not too sure I will be heard this time either, but it’s the biggest chance I have so I took it.  More to follow on that matter once I receive notification back on my case.

~Cheryl

 

 

 

“Rebuilding” A Deployment: Incidents

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The other day I shared with you all how I’ve worked backwards in my attempt to rebuild my deployment for the purposes of explaining the type of role, responsibility, and burdens of that service to the VA.  I understand informing you about the total number of casualties doesn’t give you enough clarity alone.  While it is hard enough to go through the daily burden of receiving casualty information knowing we couldn’t undo those situations, it also made me stressed about people I knew going outside the base and my own safety on the few occasions I traveled outside Blue Diamond.  (It’s going to sound a little crazy but while on deployment, mortar attacks were pretty normal.  It’s only been in the last few years being close to fireworks again that my body had developed an adverse response to what I know is not a threat but my brain treats differently.)

War is a combination of intentional actions and just as our military employs various weapons our service overseas exposed us to dangers of all kinds from enemy combatants.  Small arms fire (SAF), rocket-propelled grenades, (RPG’s) improvised explosive devices (IED’s), vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED’s), and mortars. At the end of the day, our maps would be marked by various patterns of heinous activity and accidental circumstances.

I’ve mentioned previously I am only scratching the surface of the deployment by presenting data for deceased U.S. service members.  There are real barriers to getting a true representation of my deployment and I do not wish to do a disservice to the many persons wounded on my deployment.  Their stories are equally as important as the many service members who were killed, but I have such an incomplete picture of this time period based on how different sites collect and present data related to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Here are some key differences to shed light on this matter (and like one of my former professors mentioned, it’s important to not ignore inconvenient data).  The table, Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) U.S. Casualty Status,  presents a challenge as it included the entire conflict from the early stages, including areas outside of Iraq.

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Table courtesy of Defense.org

Other sites also try to appropriate inform by collating the recorded numbers in a different format, but again, it’s hard to separate out the casualties that would have occurred on our watch from the ones my counterparts would have dealt with for their service in other command centers during other portions of OIF.  iCasualties.org helped me a bit to get a better idea of how this part of my deployment could have looked through various sorting categories.  The table below from iCasualties.org has an option to look at wounded data by month and service branch but it is not province specific.  Even if we look at just the Marine Corps and Army for this time period (keeping in mind August and February were not full months in country) our activity reports would have covered some portion of the 4,936 personnel belonging to these service branches.

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Table courtesy of iCasualties.org

I have some other grievances with the iCasualties.org website including how the filters aren’t functioning and sorting the way they should.  I recognize the sight picture of my deployment will be incomplete but at least looking back, I have tools to help me explain my deployment to others.

Getting back to the data I can truly work from, below I have provided a chart I created covering the types of incidents within the Al Anbar province from August 8th, 2004 to February 22nd, 2005.  I chose to combine various types of enemy action under ‘enemy action’ than to list each subcategory I discovered in the Military Times records.  When I tried to be more precise in the pie chart, it was far too cluttered.  For this reason, I am also providing a better snapshot of the complexity of the recorded violent events and breakdown of the non-combat related fatalities.

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Thanks again for your patience regarding this difficult subject.

It is my hope that what I’ve worked through for personal reasons can help others understand a different side of war that is underrepresented in discussion.  I do not wish to tread on anyone’s feelings regarding personnel who go out of the wire on conveys or vehicular and foot patrols but it does help to recognize what burdens are placed upon support personnel.  We have an opportunity to revisit training and support services for our service members who handle information for the killed and wounded and/or their personnel belongings/effects.  I would also hope civilians can see why we need more nuanced discussion about war and its consequences in the classroom.

~Cheryl

 

“Rebuilding” A Deployment: Casualty Numbers

I am nearing the end of pulling together documentation for my VA claim, so here’s a bit of an update with some additional clarification on past discussions.  From my research, I learned the Al Anbar Province of Iraq is equivalent in size to the state of North Carolina.  I spent two separate seven month deployments to this region, but the deployment I speak (for you new readers) most of is the one I served under 1st Marine Division and is what I am discussing tonight.

Unpacking my military service with fellow graduate students from 2014 to 2016 was the first time I started to look more critically at my time period of service, my branch of service, changes to military policy, and how bases on deployments reinforce, create, and challenge certain societal expectations and behaviors. My first attempt of reviewing the casualty information related to my deployment was one of the most stressful things I’ve done since leaving the Marine Corps but I hope others saw the good intentions behind my actions and the knowledge I shared.  I felt it was tough to have a classroom full of peers, many without any personal connection to war and conflict, criticize an experience I lived through and my deployment was marked by trauma not well discussed by our nation’s media.

I write to you of an imperfect journey started last spring.  When I first braved the idea of sorting through the U.S. service member casualty data, I did so with the intent of educating collegiate students about modern war service in a support capacity; I also gathered information, as best as possible, about Iraq casualties through Iraq Body Count. The hardest piece of information to gather was for insurgents killed as I could not find it broken down by province by the best available data came from Stars and Stripes Insurgent ‘Body Count’ Records Released article published October 1, 2007.

After my second look (solely focused on US service members), I saw I made a mistake in my numbers, adding one extra casualty, from the time period of August 13th, 2004 to February 25th, 2005 because I misread my Excel spreadsheet.  I am embarrassed by this mistake, but with a clearer head this time, I know why the mistake was made.  I was crazy exhausted pulling together this information for my graduate applied project while also pulling 40 hour work weeks.  I could have asked someone to take a second look, but I was–and still am–personally invested in telling of my experiences a certain way.  I do not like when someone takes my words and shapes their own agenda, skewing what I said to imply something else.  I’ve seen when such oversight creates a larger misunderstanding and I do not want someone else to misrepresent my experiences.

The second look at the casualty data from Military Times Honor the Fallen  was done for personal reasons.  I needed this information to help support my claim with the VA that my anxiety-induced chest pains are service connected.  My military record is sparse as I grew tired coordinating with–and lacked trust in–military medical facility staff.  For all the great things I experienced in the Marine Corps, medical care is not one of them.  The culture of the Marine Corps,too, creates some undue pressure to avoid medical care, both to avoid the label of ‘malingerer’ and to remain deployable.

Looking back, I realize I had a choice and I didn’t use my voice to speak up when medical staff dismissed my physical symptoms as a ‘runner’s stitch’ although I was repeatedly adamant I never experienced a chest pain during physical activity.  For this look, I included the dates that matched the dates of service listed on my Navy and Marine Corps Achievement citation (posted below as a snippet).  I don’t need to go down the road with the VA on why I believe looking through my last day of service at Camp Blue Diamond is important nor do I think providing them with the Iraqi casualty information will be helpful because I cannot pinpoint which deaths are tied to my period of service overseas, same for the insurgent data.

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The citation hides, in plain language, what a significant event is, and for us, it was mostly information about the killed and wounded (friendly, civilians, and enemy combatants).  This type of work was classified secret, so without access to military records, I have used the readily available information at hand from Military Times, Iraq Body Count, and the Stars and Stripes article to give you some semblance of my Operation Iraqi Freedom 2-2 deployment.  (My second Iraq deployment was OIF 5-7, for anyone who is interested in Iraq rotations.)

Military Times Honor the Fallen Data

Most accurate data as I individually recorded for Al Anbar Province and by individual day (Military Times does not have a ‘sort’ feature by province)

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***I am providing more detailed information to the VA than what I am sharing with you all today.

Iraq Body Count Data

Medium Accuracy: Province specific, not date specific

Maximum Recorded Killed by Month

Stars and Stripes Data

Least Accurate Data: Not Specific to Al Anbar Province Nor by Individual Day

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As my weekend permits, I want to also share a more intimate look at the U.S. Service member casualty information.  There is a lot to dissect about causes of death, incidents that affected multiple personnel, and operating in constantly stressful environments, but it’s best to have a separate discussion.

The journey to complete my second review, while not as stressful as the first, was still stressful.  This deployment changed my feelings a lot regarding personal safety, how I approach my work, my personal relationships, and how I viewed my place in this world.  I am better for serving, but like many others, I still have work to do coping with the aftermath of this part of my life.

~Cheryl

What is it with People?! From Shoe Size to Public Tragedy, You Always Have the Right to Limit the Sharing of Your Personal Details.

Good afternoon, everyone.  Today I had my first encounter with a quite strange individual on Instagram.  His undue comments, see below, loosely tie in with what I originally wanted to talk about today, the Las Vegas shooting.

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We live in a society where people currently feel they are entitled to information about total strangers and are subsequently personally affronted when that privacy door is slammed in their faces.

Before I get to my sentiments about the Las Vegas shooting, let me tell you the guy was affronted about me not wanting to share my shoe size.  Mr. Shoe/Foot Fetish was a bit pissed that I didn’t want to give him this little detail about my body.  Although all comments related to this little spat are deleted after he asked if I minded (Yes, I mind being asked.) I gave the following response:

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It’s simple, right?  I do not owe anyone any part of my personal life that I do not wish to share.  I don’t owe someone details about what I had for breakfast.  I don’t owe someone a sneak peek or my sentiments of my financials.  I do not owe anyone an explanation of my military service and subsequent troubles getting the VA to understand the anxiety-related chest pains I’ve dealt with for the last 12 years.  Yet, there are times I CHOOSE to share this information.  The key thing is I’m talking about choice.

I don’t condemn people for wanting information in the wake of a public tragedy but the more we continue to presume, via our social media presences, that small details of others’ lives are ours to know the more I see this problem seep in how tragedies are documented and discussed.  I feel so awkward listening to some interviews and news stories; the exploitation of people fresh in their personal grief aggravates me.  This morning, in particular, it was hard, as a mother, to hear a small boy on tv give testimony about how he was without his mom now.  Seriously, right now he needs the safe embrace of loved ones, not the media coming in to repackage his trauma, pulling at fellow Americans’ heartstrings.

I say these things because I’ve been in similar shoes on two occasions.

After losing my friend, Bart, in 2002, I watched, with utter disgust, how the media camped out in his neighborhood.  My friends know I didn’t handle it well and I cussed at those local reporters.  None of us expected he would die so young or that he would become a murder victim.

In the other situation, away from prying media eyes, I sat besides my parter in 2004 (we’ve been exes for quite some time) as strangers asked him if being shot changed his belief in God.  Are you freaking kidding me?!

The fact people are willing to ask such things is not an overnight phenomenon.  It’s the small questions over time, chipping away at personal boundaries–real and imaginary–that encourage and emblazon others to think no question is off limits.

So, to the person who asked me about my shoe size today, I had good reason to tell you know.  I had more than one reason to tell you know and I only gave you one response.  You weren’t even OWED a response!

To our Las Vegas shooting victims, I apologize for any infringement you suffer in the wake of this intimate and public tragedy.  I will watch the news, with a critical mind, and I will cringe when I see those vignettes that border on the inappropriate.

For everyone still wondering those things that I’m seeing, here’s one tidbit from The Washington Post.  It is frustrating to see that question, Do you know someone who died?  

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I want to close with some information I found from the organization Trauma Intervention Programs’ “When Tragedy Strikes” regarding dealing with the media.  You can always say no.  You can choose how to share your sentiments.  You can choose who in your family is interviewed and who is excluded from interviews.  You have the right to complain about the process and persons involved in interviewing you.  You have the right to know how your story, as you’ve shared it, is being told.  I am touching on so little of this process, but we are all people with the rights to our personal lives and you owe nothing to anyone else that you do not wish to give.

~Cheryl

 

When Fraudulent Claims Crop Up: The Bad with the Good

Good evening, everyone.  I wanted to drop in real quick.

I’m taking a few moments for myself this night watching “Wedding Crashers” with my husband.  (For anyone who doesn’t know me personally, I’m probably the worst person to sit down and watch a tv show or at home movie with because I am constantly getting up to grab food, check my email, attend to my kids…anything.)

I came across an article this morning that I feel needs more recognition.  In the past, I’ve talked about my frustration with veteran entitlement and usually my sentiments focus on people who think because they served, they are owed preferential treatment every day moving forward, but this issue is a bit more elevated.  In this situation, what the veteran has done is deplorable.

The article I saw this morning, shared on Military Times, discussed how former Master Sergeant Mack Cole Jr. pretended he couldn’t walk to obtain more healthcare benefits.  Ugh.  Seriously?!  I don’t think the 27 month prison sentence is enough punishment for this sort of behavior.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have wanted disability compensation for a back injury but to exacerbate it to the extent he pretended he couldn’t walk is an insult to all our veterans who have lost the ability to walk on their own two legs.  I don’t know what that pain looks like and for individuals who cope with paralysis or the loss of one or both lower limbs, I cannot imagine the anger some might feel looking at this guy.

His descent into healthcare fraud is a part of why it’s so challenging for veterans to go through the disability claims process.  When we go in to honestly talk to the claims examiners, we have people like this tainting the visibility and integrity of our community.  People like this guy might be the only veteran others encounter and their misconduct leaves such a terrible impression.

Remember he is part of the minority, not the majority of our population.