The One VA Benefit that Could Save Your Life

If you get your healthcare from the VA, then you can use their electronic records system called ebenefits. Through ebenefits you can renew prescriptions, make appointments, email your providers, track various aspects of your health and even request copies of your military records. But you know the best thing you can do on ebenefits? You can read your own medical records! And I don’t mean the general sheet they give you after an appointment that tells you your vital statistics for that day, I’m talking the nitty gritty.

Most places act like your medical records are top secret information. Next time you’re at the doctor and the nurse is writing in your chart, just ask her if you can see it. I bet she won’t. They never leave them anywhere where you might get access to them. Honestly, I have no idea why. There can’t be anything in there we don’t know, right?

With ebenefits, you get it all. Let’s say you go to the doctor with stomach pain. Your doctor suspects a stomach ulcer and decides to do a CT scan of your abdomen. You have the procedure and wait for your follow up visit to get the results. Meanwhile, the Radiologist reads the test and sends the results to your doctor. Your doctor looks at the result and tells you, “No, you don’t have an ulcer”, or, “Yes, you do have an ulcer.” Then he proceeds to treat you for said ulcer. But did you know that the Radiologist’s report actually goes over every organ in your abdomen? With ebenefits you get to read the whole thing.

This is how the above example could have gone differently. Prior to your follow up visit to get the results, you got on ebenefits and read the Radiologist’s full report so you already knew that you did or didn’t have an ulcer. But as you’re reading about the other organs in your body, you get to the pancreas and you see the words “possible IPMN – verify with ultrasound.” If you’re like most of the population, you have no idea what this means, so you turn to Google and find that this means you may have a tumor on your pancreas that 70% of the time turns into aggressive pancreatic cancer. Now, when you go to be told about the ulcer you already know about, you could ask about this pancreas thing. Because, remember? The doctor never mentioned the pancreas thing. He just told you about the ulcer because that is the only part of the report he looked at.

In the real life version of this story, the patient had read their records prior to the follow up and did ask the doctor about the pancreas. The doctor looked at the rest of the report right there and also had to Google “IPMN” to find out what it was. Thankfully, that patient is now being seen by the gut doctors.

If you have access to your medical records, READ them! Thoroughly!

A Home of Their Own

165492_1739178126037_5694844_nThough it shouldn’t, the lengths people will go in their get rich quick schemes and scams still amazes me. The very idea that they will use servicemembers, veterans and their families disgusts me. Everything from false injury notifications to obtain credit card information to fake charities that prey on America’s love for its military has been tried. The latter are some of the most heinous as they take monetary donations from caring people and then use that money as their own. It makes it hard for a person to know who they can trust to use their donation in the manner in which it was intended. This lack of trust created by continuing news stories of these fake charities or even real charity organizations who misuse funds can make it harder for those groups who operate with integrity. Today, however, I want to share with you a group that really “puts their money where their mouth is” and I pray they always will.

According to their website, Operation Homefront “assists military families during difficult financial times by providing food assistance, auto and home repair, vision care, travel and transportation, moving assistance, essential home items, and financial assistance.” They also list a number of other programs. I don’t claim to know everything about this organization, but if they are pocketing money for themselves on the sly then they must receive record donations. I’ve heard complaints against large well-known charities that actually provide very little actual assistance to those they claim to serve. Operation Homefront (OPH) is not one of them. How do I know? Because I have seen what this group has done for just ONE military family.

My son-in-law joined the Army in 2009. The past seven years have been filled with the usual ups and downs that most military families can expect; deployments, sick children, births, and the death of family members far away. Through all of this, OPH has stood behind them. For this article, I asked my daughter if she could list everything they have been provided by OPH. She just laughed and said she would try. Here is the list, short one item, this one family received from OPH:

High chair
Electric breast pump
$500 in designer baby clothes
$50 gift card for Toys R Us
200 diapers
Christmas toys every year for 3 years
Christmas dinner every year for 3 years
$20 Wal-Mart gift card for Christmas ham every year for 3 years
Plane ticket home for a morale and welfare leave
Spouse night out which included dinner, pampering and a goodie 2 years
Back to school supplies 2 years

In itself, that is one impressive list, but you may have noticed that I had said this list was “short one item”. That’s because one item that this ONE family received deserves a discussion all its own. On 13 December 2016, this family will be presented the keys to a mortgage-free home. Now, as my son-in-law transitions out of the military and back to civilian life their biggest concern is no longer a worry. The monetary value of the gift is, of course, extraordinary, but that pales in comparison to the piece of mind and continued sense of stability this gift gives to this veteran family. That is a gift beyond measure and shows that OPH understands the true needs of our veteran population.

So how did they get a house and how can you get one, too? Visit Operation Homefront’s website at and check out their “Homes on the Homefront” program. It’s open to most veterans not just those transitioning from active duty. Look at the homes they have available and read up on the rules and such. It’s an amazing program.

Come on out to Mooresville, Indiana, on December 13th and join in the celebration as this family receives their house keys! Come out and support this organization that is doing great things for veterans and is deserving or your support. Hope to see you there!

For the Love of this Country

Johnny Clem

Johnny Clem

When I was a little girl, two of my favorite things to do with my stepdad were to go to yard sales with him on Saturday mornings followed by a stop at the donut shop, and listen to Paul Harvey’s program, “The Rest of the Story” on the radio. Now that I’m a mom and grandma, I’ve continued this yard sale tradition with my own family though I have trouble finding Paul Harvey anymore.

A couple of weeks ago, while “saleing” with my daughter, I came across a fascinating book called, A Treasury of Civil War Tales: Unusual, Interesting Stories of the Turbulent Era When Americans Waged War on Americans by Webb Garrison. (Rutledge Hill Press, 1988) One of the stories in this book was about the young drummers and buglers on both sides of the war that served during the American Civil War. All of these boys were under 18 with one very special one being only nine years old. Here is his story…

After being told that the U.S. Army was not “enlisting infants”, John Lincoln Clem went from command to command in his attempt to serve his country. He finally found a home with the Twenty-second Michigan unit not as a member but as a mere tagalong. The men liked the boy though and before long they were “passing the hat each month to collect thirteen dollars for Johnny’s pay.” The men even found him an old drum and Johnny “became a Union drummer boy in every respect except for official enrollment.” However, once the real fighting began and by the time of Shiloh, he was enrolled. The newspapers made Johnny famous calling him “Johnny Shiloh”. Before long “Johnny Clem came to be admired throughout the North and hated everywhere in the South.”

“At Chickamauga, Johnny was a sight to see,” said an aide to Major General George H. Thomas. “When we decided to move in and break the Confederate siege, Johnny rode a caisson to the battle line. He waved a musket that someone had trimmed down to size for him…a Rebel chased the piece of artillery on which Johnny rode…he (the Rebel) shouted out, ‘Surrender, you damned little Yankee!’ Johnny Clem didn’t say a word. He just raised his sawed-off musket and took the fellow down.”

Now Johnny was touted as the “drummer boy of Chickamauga”.

Perhaps he had had enough of the horrors of battle and bloodshed, but a few months after this battle, Johnny left the field to become “a courier for the rest of the war.” When the war was over, Johnny applied to West Point “but couldn’t qualify because his education had ended during the third grade.” Never one to give up, Johnny appealed this decision.

When “General U.S. Grant, who had been Johnny’s commander at Shiloh” and was now the U.S. President heard of Johnny’s plight, he personally “bypassed the U.S. Military Academy” and gave him a Presidential appointment to “second lieutenant in the U.S. Army in December of 1871.”

In the immortal words of Paul Harvey, “and now, the rest of the story”…

The nine year-old drummer boy who just wouldn’t quit spent fifty-five years in the uniform of a United States soldier. He retired in 1916 as a Major General.

Fireworks and This Combat Veteran

fireworksOk. I was wrong. The conclusion of my last blog has been blown out of the water. To be honest, I’m glad. I’m glad that most people are not living in fear and jumping at every car backfire.

As a combat veteran, there is a special way I go about enjoying fireworks every year with my family. It has a lot to do with grounding myself in reality and in the present. To do this, I use what I call a “grounding point”; something, anything that did not and could not have existed during my combat service. When I’m feeling uncomfortable, I reassure myself by looking at this thing.

This year my grounding point was my youngest daughter. To know her is to know happiness and joy. She has a smile for everyone. But the best part about her? She did not exist and in no way reflects my combat service. Therefore, if she is with me and I can see her, then I am grounded solidly in the present.

The fireworks this year started like any others. They were beautiful and one even looked like Saturn! How they do that is beyond me. Anyways, things were good. I had a little trouble, as always, with the flash bangs, those that go up and then just boom with a bright ball of light, but my daughter casually reached over and held my hand. A little extra “grounding”. And then, toward the end of the fireworks, someone thought it would be funny to set off some kind of firecrackers in the parking lot. Whatever these firecrackers were, they sounded exactly like automatic rifle fire. And they were coming not from the fireworks in front of me but from my right flank. I’m not afraid or ashamed to admit that I freaked and all thought of any “grounding point” was gone.

I immediately began to assess the threat when I realized that my family was with me. What the hell were they doing here? Total confusion set it. The soldier in me wanted to move toward the threat to better assess yet the parent in me wanted to get my family out of there. How in the hell could I be both at the same time? All my life the two things had been separate. Any threats I had faced had been oceans away from my family. Two different worlds.
I looked around at the people around us only to find them happily watching the continuing fireworks show. No one else appeared threatened. As I was trying to process and understand this observation, the finale began. The continuous booms and flashing lights left me a huddled, confused mess on the blanket until it ended. I do believe we were the first ones out of the parking lot.

Once home, my daughter came in to talk to me. She told me that after those firecrackers in the parking lot, she couldn’t enjoy the rest of the show. She said that with everything going on in the world, she just felt like a target sitting out there on the grass.

So the threats aren’t oceans away anymore. They are here and her fear is real though it saddens me. No one else seemed concerned. Have I done this to her? And now I have to also wonder…how will I be able to continue to take my family to public places while the soldier wars with the parent leaving both unable to function?

And back to therapy I go…..

Why Everyone Should Understand Combat PTSD

dsc_0002Though I did mention PTSD Awareness Day earlier this month on our Facebook page, it would appear that I let the day go by on this blog without a single mention. It’s true. Part of the reason is that I was busy with a couple of medical and mental health crises within my own family, but mostly, I think having a “day” for PTSD Awareness or even a “month” is simply ridiculous.

PTSD is all around us, People. If you aren’t aware of it by now then you need to crawl out from under the rock you have been living under and join the human race. Believe it or not, I’m betting that a lot of people who have never served in combat are beginning to get a little understanding of a small part of combat PTSD.

With all of the shootings aimed at civilian gathering places around the world, a simple car backfire outside a venue could cause mass panic and a stampede towards exits. At the very least, a backfire will cause people to jump and tense. It can’t be helped. It is an instantaneous reaction, without thought, to a threat that is real or perceived. So welcome to a little slice of combat PTSD. There’s your awareness for the month.

Later in July, we plan to bring you some tips and advice on staying safe in this crazy world. Check back with us every Wednesday so you don’t miss a thing!

Please continue to support your veterans.

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month

9781882883592In honor of Brain Injury Awareness Month, throughout March the publisher of Faces of Combat will be giving three books for the price of one!

Purchase Faces of Combat on our website and you will also receive Brain Injury Rewiring for Survivors: A Lifeline to New Connections as well as Brain Injury Rewiring for Loved Ones: A Lifeline to New Connections.

And remember…every purchase of Faces of Combat results in a donated copy for us to get out to a veteran.

About the books:

Traumatic brain injury causes damage to the connections in many parts of the brain besides the focal point of the injury. It’s not enough to heal medically. Brain Injury Rewiring for Survivors discusses medical care and goes beyond that to help the survivor heal spiritually, emotionally, cognitively, physically, socially, and vocationally through traditional and complementary medicine and good nutrition.

Brain Injury Rewiring for Survivors is one of two well-received books designed to help survivors of brain injuries. The companion book, Brain Injury Rewiring for Loved Ones, describes how family and friends of the survivor can help the survivor during recovery.