First off, my very grateful thanks to all of our veteran Blenders- especially Barista Autumn! 🙂 ~Louise
Today I am sharing a link to a DKos diary posted yesterday written by a very, very dear friend of mine. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say I think of her as a sister Life gave me.
Veteran’s Day is sometimes reduced for some people to a bank or school holiday or maybe a parade. Still others are like me- we didn’t serve, yet we respect very highly and care very deeply for and about those who did.
And sometimes, hearing the true stories of veterans hurts us- alot. Maybe it HAS to, for us to realize not just what the veterans have done for us, but what we MUST in turn do for them.
So below the fold, with her permission, is my friend Ginmar’s post.
WARNING: it is a raw, personal and painful story- and for our years of knowing her, Keori and I can attest that this is all very real.
And the comments over on DailyKos show an interesting cross-section of reactions…
But aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?
The VA continues to ignore women veterans even while they face the same pressures male veterans do, with the added conditions of sexism, the usual VA incompetence, and indifference to Veterans’ experiences or symptoms.
Today the VA sent me a letter, with my name and address and social on it, detailing the reasons why the special transportation they have been providing to me was being terminated. They offered a generic list of alternative options, which included ‘asking for help from family and friends’ and ‘taking public transportation.’ In order to send this letter, of course, they would have to collect this information from me, from a file which might have detailed that my family is dead, and that the reason I do not take public transportation is because I have such bad panic attacks that I black out. Nevertheless, they forged on, much like the cheerful nurse I dealt with on the phone who commented on my tone of voice, “You sure don’t seem too happy about it!”
“I’m being treated for suicidal thoughts and depression after several suicide attempts.”
She transferred me without comment after that. Again, a moment’s notice would have provided her with that information. She didn’t bother.
To add the final touch to the day, the Director’s secretary, in collecting my information grudgingly to provide me with help from another bureacrat who will tell me, yet again, that I’m on my own, hung up on me promptly once the I had uttered the last digit of my phone number.
This is not a bad day at the VA; there are dozens of stories like that, just from my own experience, and part of them are due to the simple fact that I am a woman veteran, my injuries are for the most part invisible, and as a soldier who di the same job as my male counterparts, I am invisible at a VA where women soldiers are represented—if, in act, they are at all—by Viet Nam era nurses, WWII Wacs and Waves—or treated as dependents. They’re much more comfortable offering PAP smears and stuffed teddy bears to women than they are even offering the appearance of attention when you tell them about the constant nightmares, the panic attacks, the flinching at loud noises, the shadowy figures on rooftops or here and there around you, especially in the dark. One doctor—or rather, one intern—has asked about my experiences in Iraq. I wound up on the floor minutes later, in agony, for the first time explicitly dealing with what I had seen and done in Iraq.
I could talk about the usual dry statistics about women veterans, but I won’t, because they don’t convey the day-to-day experience of being a woman veteran. No one pegs you on sight for being a soldier. When I wore a tee shirt advertising the school I went to at Ft. Bragg, a VA staffer—as well as several civilians—asked if my boyfriend had gotten it for me. When an NCO ordered me to the hospital after seeing me pound at a car door to get out of it, and then gasp by the side of the road, the VA allowed as how I might have PTSD, but that there had to be a precipitating event and—-Oh, you did have a precipitating event? Well, then there needs to be documenta—-Oh, you do have documentation?
Well, then, um….say, did you have a traumatic childhood?
None of which has gone unremarked upon by myself. I have offered my own momentoes of war to add to the display cases—desert camo uniforms, medals, pictures, a Koran, and so many more. No one got back to me, and in fact, I was told, “Well….we’ll think about it.” What’s to think about? Is the display case closed? Packed, stuffed, with Barbie dolls in uniform and teddy bears? Or maybe the waiting room is too full of children’s toys and books, while the PTSD clinic displays only manly hunting magazines and lad mags. And can I just say that if you’re a female veteran who in any way suffered from soldier-on-soldier harassment in the war zone, pictures of starlet’s tatas reinforce pretty strongly your role in some peoples’ minds.
I’ve been put in therapy groups with wife beaters and sexual assaulters. I’ve been put in therapy groups with housewives who told me–when I detailed some of what I’d gone through in Iraq—that it was too disturbing for them to listen to. I’ve also had staffers violate HIPPA standards, shrug it off, and then refuse to address either the invasion of privacy or the feeling of invasion. I’ve had doctors tell me ‘there are jerks everywhere’ when, as a patient dealing with suicidal thoughts I was threatened by another patient and the only option was to go back home.
I was a soldier in Iraq who rode the gun turret on the long dusty roads of Iraq, past palm trees and herds of sheep, past waving men and women, past fields of sunflowers and charred craters in the Baghdad highway where men and women had lost their lives. I talked, over and over again, to men and women who looked in to my eyes, and told of relatives lost to war, to insurgents, and to disease and malnutrition wrought by years of a blockade that left a whole generation of kids so small that I repeatedly mistook twenty-year-old men for twelve-year-old boys. I took mortar attacks in strike—at the time—shouting at an attack that resulted in bombs every five minutes that I’d wasted five bucks on an alarm clock with a snooze alarm when I could have just used the insurgent snooze alarm. I sat across tables and across carpets with men who’d cheerfully try to kidnap me or kill me and marveled at the manners of the Middle East, where mutual enmity is no excuse for tea and flower language. “Come, let us have tea and discuss this unfortunate situation where this RPG happened to fire at you while it was in my hand.” I’ve seen things that I will discuss with no civilian, because the worse things I saw happened to civilians, to civilian bodies, and I believed then and now that it was my job to have protected them, to the point of risk to myself, and that I failed. I, I, I, I know, but I saw these things and the language to describe the intimate details of war, the effects on the heart, are so hard to find that the accounts I do manage of it stumble and start, punctuated by long pauses of helpless silence, until an experience comes to mind that can be described in English words: “bomb, mortar, civilian casualties—Oh, the euphemism!—-blood, my fellow soldiers were injured and I was useless and helpless, I looked into an Iraqi man’s brown eyes at close range with my finger on the trigger and took one extra breath and realized he was not a suicide bomber, I talked with Iraqis and watched their hope and gratitude turn to fear and disapppointment and hopelessness, I talked to innocents imprisoned for things they didn’t do and I couldn’t save them from prison, why on earth can’t I find a way to talk about this because it’s stuff that happened to other people that haunts me the most? My fellow soldiers, sailors, and Marines were killed–cruelly, sometimes—-and looking into Iraqi eyes, I saw the same grief and loss. It didn’t happen to me and I have no right to claim it, but when the VA treats me like a mammogram waiting to happen, all this and so much more remains locked inside me, where it boils and comes out in nightmares and knives, with blood the only relief from the guilt and the grief, the emptiness and helplessness, the panic and confusion.
And then I go the VA, and to top it all off, they ignore fever and pain and weeks later a tooth abscess leaves in agony and illness that lingers to this day, resistant to anti-biotics that, indeed, cost me reactions elsehwere in the body. They turned me from a soldier who once limped around on thrice-broken ankle, protesting that I ‘have s*** to do, it can’t be broken!’ till my First Sgt. ordered me to an emergency room. When a seizure from the wrong meds left me biting all the way through my own lip, I told the doctor I’d take out my own stitches, thanks—and did. The soldier who did convoys in 120 degree heat and who did one of the most difficult things of all—saying frankly, that combat was terrifying, especially when you were horribly outnumbered and outgunned—has turned into this person who begs, desperately, for simple respect and acknowledgment and despairs of it ever coming, as the insults and ignorance pile up, as I’m told repeatedly that ‘there’s no need’ for specific PTSD programs directed at female soldiers how might have experienced the double whammy of sexual assault from battle buddies and combat. Out of sight is out of mind. Our place in the nation’s sight apparently occurs only when we come home in flag-draped coffins, over which the nation flaps its yellow ribbons and enjoys a good, if temporary cry. The VA can’t find enough volunteers or claims processors to treat veterans, to help them and assist them. I like to think that the latter is the reason why so many claims are denied, but in my case, the doctor’s notes reveal otherwise.
And so, Mrs. Lincoln, did you enjoy the play? Oh, dear, must you go on? I just asked a simple question, why must you muddy the waters?