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Veterans, The Least of These?

9 Nov

A scripture exerpt: Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ “Then He will answer them, Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ ~Matthew 25


 

*Personal Disclaimer: My mind is full of so many details and directions. I will attempt to briefly lay out the gist and hope for a cohesive presence.

It is inconceivable to me that our veteran’s suffer at the hands of a medical system inadequately established to care for the men and women who offer their body, mind and often times spirit in sacrifice for the rest of us. Why are the powers-that-be not reorganizing this health care system to better accommodate the needs at hand? I exhale loudly as I contemplate the complexity of the question. The profound respire of frustration.

You see I sat with my son for each and every appointment he had at the VA. There were many and at various locations–Los Angeles, Long Beach, Laguna Niguel. Hoped for Palo Alto, but denied. Looked into La Jolla, denied. We would bring our own lunch cooler, games and the best patience we could muster. Neurology, for example: After the 3 to 4 hour wait, we would meet with a resident doctor from the local University California system. The resident would take notes. Another hour and then the specialist would enter the room. Despite the notes from the resident, the same questions would fly. And result? Nothing. “Sorry but I don’t think the VA will approve that treatment. I’ll submit the request but it is doubtful. I’ll see you back here in another month.” And commonly the appointment is re-scheduled because the speciliast has to travel to teach.  What in the world is the VA doing using military veterans as tools for the educational system? The UC system is impacted in and of itself, let alone sharing it’s depletion with the VA. …it boils my blood.

I am getting closer to sharing Cole’s story, or at least pulling back the veil in snipets. His story is complex and well layered. He was on the front lines in Afghanistan with a malignant brain tumor, but was told he had mental illness. Three Army hospitals failed to extend the proper diagnostics to catch the tumor early on. In fact it was Cole who sensed the issue, but only after grappling for months with what the Marine Corps was telling him–that he was subpar. And of course they would think that, the Army hospitals were confirming as much. His tumor was discovered here in our home hospital, only after Cole insisted in the ER that he would not leave without a CT scan. End scene.

This morning my husband asked the most unusual question, “Would you want to hike up to the flag pole with me today?” Now if you know me, you know that I LOVE to hike. You would also know that Brian (my other half) does not. So when he asked me, and being I had the day off from work, I jumped at the chance and gave an emphatic, positive reply. Being that Veteran’s Day is heading toward us this week, my heart is a bit sensitive. Veteran’s Day also falls the day before our daughter’s birthday. These two dates are bitter sweet for our family. Without Cole by our side, celebrations of any kind are. And the flag pole hike is one that I have traversed with Cole alone, prior to his tumor discovery. So this morning as I was retracing steps long ago taken with my son by my side, and being the very trail is named “Patriot Trail,” additionally the flag waving atop the ridgeline was secured as an Eagle Scout project (Cole earned his Eagle Scout in January of 2009) my mind was busy in pondering. I thought of our own story, layered and well suited for a lawsuit or two. But as I think of the legal road, I can’t escape the question, “for what and to whom would that benefit?” I can sue the Army, Marine Corps and VA but that won’t bring Cole back to our family. Sure a little financial gain is a temptation, I won’t lie. Especially as expenses from the experience mount. But the gain of financial security seems pointless when Cole’s story is the unfortunate story of many of our veteran’s. No, I must hang on and invest the energy needed to “tell the tale” for the greater good–the men and women still living.

One of Cole’s best friends from the Corps is one such person. In Texas he is currently experiencing the same “run around” for a condition that should (and could) easily be remidied. When I think of my calling as a servant of The Most High, I cannot forget the living. And as such I remember the words of Jesus as written in the book of Matthew. Of course with teaching from Jesus there are multiple lessons imparted, though I am honing in on “the least of these.” Essentially Jesus is saying to those he is teaching that when considering people of lesser circumstances, you are simultaneously considering the Heavenly Father. And should you disregard those facing unfortunate pathways, you also disregard God. Thus to garner favor for the Bent family only feels wrong, when so many are presently living Cole’s story. Which brings me to my next question, “how did our military veteran’s get relegated to the category of ‘least of these’?” The idea of it sickens my soul.

This Veteran’s Day I will visit the grave of my son. I will hate every minute of it. But amidst my sorrow and longing for his return I will also seek strength. Strength to find the path of action which will lead to reform. Our military service people deserve it.

Patriot Trail San Juan Capistrano

Rivka at the Flag Pole on Patriot Trail

 

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Warning Signs

7 Sep

When I was a young girl I would often travel with my cousin, aunt and uncle to their cabin on Echo Lake in Northern California. On the winding mountain road there were signs posted that read, “Watch for Falling Rock.” At the time my uncle quelled the inquiries of us two little girls with the following story:

Falling Rock is a little Indian boy who was lost from his tribe. His father put these signs up so people would keep a look out for the young boy in hopes of finding him. So keep your eyes open for little Falling Rock and let me know if you see him.

Needless to say, my cousin and I would keep our eyes glued to the great horizon, through the boundary of trees and cliff sides, through each pane of glass afforded in the Jeep Wagoneer, in hopes of reuniting the little Indian boy to his family. Of course upon our arrival to the cabin the distractions of fun took precedence to the road sign call. However, the search would continue for the duration of the ride down the mountain and would commence again the next trip up.

Here’s the thing, I honestly believed my uncle’s story up until I was in my nineteenth year. At this point I don’t remember where I was headed, but I do remember it was somewhere in Southern California (not northern) and I was in the driver’s seat. I also remember that I was alone at the time for when I passed the “Watch For Falling Rock” sign and had the epiphany that it is actually a roadside warning sign due to the potentiality of loose rocks falling from the cliffs and not anything to do with a little Indian boy, I had to ingest the knowledge of my gullibility and my uncle’s cunning tactics alone. I remember feeling duped, enlightened and dumb all at once.  I remember I was also relieved. Finally I could let go of the concern, genuine concern, I had stored up within me for this little lad–his non-existence lifted the native American plight. And for the first time I interpreted the “Watch For Falling Rock” sign as its placement intended, a warning to driver’s that rocks may fall onto the road.

Warning signs along the way of life are helpful. The yellow road signs are “suggestions” and meant to assist the traveler’s path. And so we become accustomed to looking out for these markers and almost expect they will keep us from dangerous terrain. So is true for emotional warning signs–or so I thought.

In my previous post I shared that this summer I have been purposeful in negating grief’s call. And had you asked me a week ago, I would have felt somewhat successful in the endeavor. But this past week I was tagged, caught in the whirlwind of sorrow and was thrown back into the throngs of pain as if I had never left. It truly was akin to a PTSD experience. Though we (the Bent 3) have not had the formality of the diagnosis (you can imagine that staying out of the doctor’s office is more the goal than in!), even so signs and symptoms have been present since May 17, 2013. Veterans know. In fact we’ve had a few seasoned military men and women ask us (respectively) “what are you doing about YOUR PTSD?” My answer is usually the same, “I’m smoking and drinking and doing drugs,” an answer I borrow from the wit of my deceased son–dry sarcasm at its finest! Of course I am not doing any of those things, my penchant for health has been marking my actions for almost three decades now. But I did get tripped off this past week, Wednesday to be precise, and it came without warning. Where’s Falling Rock when you need him?!

I was at work, a place I am usually disconnected from my personal loss for the work pace is such that one doesn’t really have the time to dwell upon self. It was an “all staff” gathering in which the entirety of the 2 hour block was devoted to rolling out our new health benefits plan. I arrived to the location in normal form, coffee in hand and laptop ready for note taking, but I was also eager to learn more about the new change–I had high hopes of finally being able to afford health coverage for Brian and Esther. So it came as a surprise to me when at about 30 minutes into the presentation my heart began racing and my vision was blurring to the point I couldn’t read the informational paperwork. I began to get nauseous and a headache was creeping in. I left the building to head to the bathroom and get some fresh air, but it didn’t help much. As I tried to stick it out it felt more and more difficult to focus and actually breathe. I had to excuse myself, pack up and leave–if I was going to loose my lunch I wanted to be home sooner than later!

Back at my office to gather my things I contemplated the symptoms upon me and began to point the finger toward my tuna sandwich I ate for lunch. It seemed the most viable culprit due to the fact I purchased it from the 7-11 convenient store.  I thought I was most likely experiencing food poisoning given how quickly the affliction hit. Thankfully my niece was at work with me that day and was available to be the appointed driver. In haste we hit the road in hopes that I could keep my tuna from swimming back up for the duration of the hour long ride home. But as our voyage north inched ever closer to Miramar National Cemetery where Cole is buried (a landmark I pass by twice daily, Monday through Friday), I knew this was not the flu nor was I poisoned by fish. As the guttural cries could be contained no more I realized the topic of healthcare and health insurance was cause for my angst.

I spent the rest of the day in my bed crying. I remained in this condition throughout most of the night. I awoke on Thursday and could not pull myself together enough to make it into work, which thankfully my boss understood. I had been tripped off. For me it was a strange experience for I usually can see the signs coming. The thoughts of Cole in my head and the pangs within my soul typically provide fair warning that I am moving toward unstable ground. The difference with this situation is that the physicality of symptoms hit first and I honestly thought I was coming down with the flu or having a bad reaction to something I ate. My son had PTSD and I learned a lot about it at result, which is how I also recognized the symptoms within the Bent 3 upon our loss. But this being “tripped off” was a new aspect for me, personally, and a bit alarming if I am to be completely transparent. I didn’t like that my body was responding to something my mind hadn’t caught up with yet. A panic attack without knowing yet that panic is present. It is strange indeed.

During my son’s two years of struggle post surgery we, collectively, hurt for those veterans who lacked the advantage of an advocate. I was honored to assist Cole and he was grateful to have my voice in his corner. And I have not forgotten those Vets still lingering without assistance. I somehow need to find a way to navigate topics that trigger adverse physical and emotional responses. I do hope to one day be able to advocate for veterans and active military, in honor of Cole and his own soft-spot for helping others, his own understanding of how much red-tape exists for military men and women, young and old, in need of health care. Cole’s story is layers-full and rich with injustices from all sides: US Marine Corps, Army Medical Centers, Department of the Navy and Veterans Affairs. And sadly, his story is everyone’s story, is the majority of circumstances and reform is most definitely needed.

So here I am, trying to gain ground in healing in order to have access to strength for the impending task at hand. I know the call to action is inching ever closer, I can feel it. Most likely as life has proved, I won’t be ready but provisions will be there. Opportunity will call me out before I seek it. And the broken heart I carry will come with me, not hindering but guiding, reminding me of my own vulnerabilities and need of grace.

Without warning we live daily, though not without help.

Psalm 23

November 11

10 Nov

November 11, Veteran’s Day, can be a hard day for many U.S. residents.  It is a day of patriotism and recognition of the men and women who enlist to serve and protect our country.  It is a day of celebration, it is also a day that reminds…

For those who suffer the loss of their veteran, or for those whose veteran is deployed, it is a day of non-avoidance.  As we know, my veteran is no longer with me.  Funny, my dad was also a veteran, and I miss him too.  This past Saturday I opened the door to my son’s bedroom.  I looked around and thought, “ok Cole, enough of this already, it’s time to come home!”  Some would say to me as response, “he is home.”  And you know what?  My spirit agrees, but my maternal heart and mind does not.

Tomorrow when I raise the American flag (U.S.A) I will be moved to a place of non-avoidance.  The “missing” of Cole is hitting pretty hard these days.  Shock has side stepped as time has traipsed upon its reigning hour, and the missing is taking center stage–for us all.

I will share a photo here, only because I intend to honor the many veterans whose bravery is incomprehensible to me.  The picture is of the folded flag our family was presented at Cole’s posthumous honor ceremony, the medals are not his (those are placeholders awaiting his mom, me, to finish the shadow box presentation–a task I do not wish to accomplish as it would imply I am moving into a place of acceptance of my loss, which I am not).  Yet by doing something difficult for me, facing this reality upon the shelf, I hope to honor our men and women veterans and their inspirational tenacity, their example of bravery, and in doing so honor those same qualities once held by my son.

For those reading this post, may you be reminded to extend gratitude tomorrow (and every opportunity henceforth) by saying, “thank you for your service,” to the women and men who willingly stand up and defend our rights and freedom.

Happy Veteran’s Day

honor flag U.S.A.

Cole, thank you for your service.

Note:  The following organizations were instrumental in assisting my son, I also thank them for their service to him and to others.  Their work is a blessing to many:  http://semperfifund.org  —  http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/#

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