Sunday, December 19, 2010

He is Moving in Us

Church this morning was amazing! We had a guest preacher whose sermon really touched me. It was related to Christmas but then again, not so much. The first part was based on the story of Mary, when the angel came to her and told her she would birth Jesus (Luke 1:26-38). Mary, a virgin engaged to Joseph was told she was going to carry and deliver Jesus! The pastor, Dave Burns, spoke of how much this must have "freaked her out!" However, because of her faith, she trusted that all would be well. She was literally pregnant with Jesus! There was no hiding it and many people would cast judgement on her, including her soon to be husband! But even with all of these things, she was His servant, and trusted that it would all be alright!

The second part was based on Matthew 1:18-25 which tells Joseph's side of this new revelation that his fiancee was pregnant. In those days especially this was a huge deal. Joseph really struggled with what he should do and even considered breaking things off with Mary. But, once again, through faith, he trusted Mary, and did everything he could to support Mary and the child she would birth! It just amazes me the strength and character that both Mary and Joseph show us through these two stories.

The pastor went on to show us how this pertains to our lives today, which really hit home for me. How many of us are in Mary's shoes, where God is working miracles in our lives and we have to have faith that He has a plan and knows what He is doing? Then there are the Joseph's, who may be in a supportive role for those receiving the miracle. How should we support those around us we love who are in the midst of a miracle? Do we doubt, or have faith?? How many of us are pregnant with a miracle from Jesus that is growing inside us? Yes, it may freak us out, but we must embrace and support it!

I know I'm not explaining it near as well as he did, but I hope you get the picture. Now, why this hit home for me. Allen is Mary. God is working a miracle in him through The Pathway Home. We were literally in a very bad situation with Allen and his PTSD. It had become VERY dangerous and we were desperately trying to find a program to help him find safety and peace. We had looked for a few months but nothing was working out. The VA said he wasn't stable enough for their program and medicare and tricare kept saying it was the VA's job to treat his PTSD. Oh a whim, I contacted The Pathway Home and we flew him there 3 weeks later. If this wasn't a miracle, I don't know what was! The miracle is still unfolding as he gets help there. His confidence is building and his coping skills are growing! It is truly miraculous!

Since Allen is Mary, that makes me Joseph! I of course had my fears and doubts, but I know that He has a plan for all of us. I also know that He didn't save Allen in Iraq to come home and live a horrible, traumatized life. I know that He has plan for Allen, me and our family and that once we are ready, He will show it to us. In the mean time, I have to support Allen the best way I can and constantly seek guidance from our Lord almighty!

I can see how these stories relate to so many lives, probably every one's. I'm sure that we each face being like Mary and Joseph many times throughout our life. I hope that by me sharing how this amazing sermon touched my life, it will in turn touch another.

Even Now.......Gina

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Missing Daddy

We are all really missing Allen lately. We all made it through Thanksgiving relatively easy, thankfully. I honestly did not think that the holidays would be that big of a hurdle for us, after all, this isn't the first time he's been away for an extended period of time. On top of that, we get to talk to him as much and as often as we want to, which is so much easier than the deployments. We sometimes went an entire month without hearing a word from him, so this should be EASY!!

Well, it's not! This week I think it really hit me. I always have our tree up by the weekend after Thanksgiving if not the weekend before. Here it is the 9th of December, and I'm still in the process of getting it up! What is wrong with ME?? I finally rearranged the furniture on Sunday so we had room for a tree. Then, yesterday I made my way to the attic to drag down on the stuff! Tree first. I manage to get it all down and into the house and put up the first layer of the prelit tree. Half of it doesn't light, and one branch is bent so far down it is touching the floor. Not quite what I was expecting! And of course, we've used this tree for the last 7 years or so, and it's this year it decides to act crazy! A year when Allen isn't here to fix it for me! I simply sat down in defeat and decided to call my dad. He came over later that evening and managed to get the branch bent back up and sometime during the afternoon the lights came on too. So, I decide to go on up with the rest of it, after being at a complete standstill all afternoon! The rest of it went up but a couple of rows of lights in the middle didn't light. We decided to leave them on for awhile, maybe they needed to warm up! After being on all night, they should have been warm but they still weren't lit. I guess Dreyson could see my sense of defeat and sadness and he told me it was all okay because it would still be beautiful without all the lights turned on! Man, I love that kid! I was ready to throw it to the curb and go buy a new one, but not something we really should be spending money on while we wait for Allen's VA claim to come through.

Through all of this ordeal the last two days, I realized how much Allen really does around here. As much as I take care of him, he still does so much to help me. He is definitely missed around here!! He seems to be doing pretty well still. I don't think it will really bother him being away for the holidays as they are not an easy time of the year for him anyway. He's really pretty lost in his own world this time of year, but we have felt his absence. Dreyson hasn't called him Daddy for several years now, but has recently began referring to him as that again. (Of course, this is very touching for me, but I haven't mentioned it because I don't want him to become self conscience about it.) I think it's just a sign that he misses him too. He stayed home sick from school the other day and told me he wished his daddy was here cause daddy helps take care of him when he's sick.

Makale is a little more reserved with his emotions and harder to read by nature, but also because he's a teenager. However, I see it in the little things. He often will text or call his dad and has been doing it a lot more recently. We are all affected by his absence.

As difficult as these past couple of days have been on my emotions it has been really good for me to reflect on these feelings. Being a full time caregiver for someone with a mental illness like Allen's is very difficult and often hard to stay emotionally connected. This time has given me pause to reflect on this love I have for him and how much I really need him instead of the other way around all the time. I'm also thankful that I'm able to see these things and know that it's only through God's grace and understanding that I can.

Even Now......Gina

Monday, December 6, 2010

PTSD: A Selfish Beast

One thing I have noticed about PTSD is how selfish it causes those suffering to be. Now, don't get me wrong, it causes a ton of other things too, but this is one that has hit me several times throughout this journey. It reared it's ugly head again today. It came up during a phone conversation with one of my best friend's who is also the spouse of a severely injured soldier who suffers from PTSD. Then, as if it knew I had been talking about it, it decided to present itself once again in my own husband today!

This is a really hard change to accept in Allen. Before suffering so severely from PTSD, he was one of the most selfless people I knew. He always put me and the kids first in everything, often to his own demise. He would have much rather gone without himself than to have one of us in want of anything. Notice, I said want, not need. He was just that kind of guy! I think this is partly what makes this uncharacteristic trait more difficult to adjust to.

It is crazy to me how PTSD seems to make those who suffer from it, unable to view things from anyone's perspective other than their own. No matter the subject, it is impossible for me to get any other view point, other than his own, through his head. He simply cannot see it! This makes it extremely frustrating as a spouse trying to adjust to a radically new personality of my husband. But the bigger picture is how it affects our kids and the relationship they have with their dad. It is often like a sibling relationship instead of a parent/child relationship. It is really difficult to get my husband to see anything from the perspective of our kids. This damages the relationships he has with our kids and puts me in the middle of it all. I end up being the moderator instead of the supporter. Or, it makes it impossible for him to support me in what I am doing with the kids at the time. It is a really weird dynamic and I am struggling to explain it all here.

Today, I noticed it during a conversation I was having with him on the phone. It wasn't about our kids or anything, but the selfishness was definitely at the forefront. Allen was telling me about a project some of the guys participated in over the weekend. They had the opportunity to go pack boxes to be sent to troops deployed to Afghanistan with a couple of other organizations out there. He says he wasn't personally invited, but he could have went if he had wanted to. He went on to say that he wouldn't have went even if he had been personally asked to go. I just don't understand this thinking of his. He loves the troops! He is sick to death that he was medically retired and does not have the hopes of ever being on active duty again. So, what a perfect project for a guy like that!! The Allen unaffected by PTSD would have loved to participate in such an event. The post PTSD Allen couldn't think past himself to see what good it would have done for the troops and himself! Maybe I see this all wrong, but I don't think so. I know it also has to do with the depression and headaches, but I can't help but see the selfishness in it as well. It simply breaks my heart.

Now a little disclaimer. Please do not judge my husband or myself just because I choose to write about something I see as a negative characteristic he is struggling with. I also have to follow this up with he is in California, so he truly may have not felt well that day. I could be viewing this one incident completely wrong! Just remember that we are all always a work in progress and my husband is a trooper and is working very hard to beat this PTSD Beast!!

Even Now.......Gina

Friday, December 3, 2010

Allen and Frankie

I've been asked several times lately about Frankie and Allen in one way or another. A common one recently is how has Frankie changed or helped our family. I started to respond to the last email that asked me this question, but then decided I should blog about it instead so I don't have to keep rewriting this topic! So, thanks Brianna for sending me the message asking about Frankie and Allen!

Frankie came into our lives in January 2009. The last week of January and the first week of February of that year Allen and I flew to Denver, Colorado to do an intense training session with Frankie and some of the best dog trainers around! For Allen and Frankie, it was an immediate connection, almost love at first sight! Before going to Colorado, Puppies Behind Bars had told Allen a little about both dogs that would be there. Samba is a black lab who is very laid back and loving! Frankie, a yellow lab, is always ready to go and eager to please. These two dogs couldn't be more different! Even before seeing her, Allen kept saying that Frankie was meant for him! I kept telling him not to get his hopes up for a certain one because I didn't want him to get disappointed! Well, he was right, Frankie was meant to be his!

The bond the two of them have is unexplainable. I have so many pictures I have snapped of the two of them and more often than not, she is glaring up at him waiting to work for him. They are extremely devoted to one another and I am convinced that they complete each other. The things Frankie does for Allen are unending. The list and this post could go on and on but I will try to explain some of what they do for each other.

One of Allen's biggest issues besides his PTSD is depression. He would go days in bed before getting Frankie and nothing could drag him out. Our kids would try, I would try, other family and friends would try but sometimes nothing was going to get him out of that bed or his recliner, whichever the case may be. Once Frankie came into our lives, she was that key to getting him up and out. He has the sole responsibility of her entire care so he has no choice but to get up to take care of her. The only time I will do it for him is if he is physically unable to do it. This is a critical part of keeping their bond so close and also the key to her being able to get him up. He knows that she has to be fed, watered, exercised, pottied, brushed, and so on to be well cared for. He also knows how hard she works for him that these things are the least he can do for her.

Another thing I notice is his confidence. He knows that if he hears something and Frankie is still relaxed, it probably wasn't anything to get too concerned over. She also gives him the courage and confidence to go out into public. While sometimes this can cause other attention from curious people, he knows with her by his side he can do it and get through tough situations. I also think that she makes me have more confidence in him. I trust her to get him through and to take care of him.

Recently, Allen has been working with a dog trainer at The Pathway Home. She is teaching him how to better use Frankie to get him through high anxiety moments. When he starts feeling his anxiety levels rise, he gets as close to Frankie as possible, and begins focusing all of his attention on her. He pets her, talks to her, and focuses on her breathing and tries to match his breathing with hers. This steadies his breathing and makes him forget whatever it was that had his anxiety rising. It is really quite amazing to watch these intimate moments take place between a wounded man and his dog.

Frankie has truly become a member of our family like I never imagined would happen. She goes everywhere with us and is constantly working for all of us by keeping my husband in the present where it is safe. She is the first to notice when he starts to slip away to that place that causes so much anxiety and immediately starts pawing or licking him. She grounds him like no person has been able to.

Allen had really become very dependent on me and had lost most of his confidence in himself. Frankie is playing a huge part in helping him gain these things back. Recently he has started going to the movies weekly and actually making it through a movie. He goes bowling every Monday which is a very noisy place full of lots of triggers. The first few times he went he just watched with Frankie on his lap!! Last week he started participating! He is walking to the gym nearly every morning, when it's still DARK, and working out, with Frankie! Honestly, I am completely amazed and thrilled that he is gaining so much of his independence and life back. He is beginning to participate in his own life again, not just be a spectator!

One other thing I want to mention about Frankie is what she is doing for him at The Pathway Home. Allen is currently in California at The Pathway Home. This is half the country away from home for him. He is gaining so much there I can't even describe! It's a miracle really. He had slipped so far before going there I wasn't sure he would ever gain his life back. I am so thankful he had Frankie to go with him. I really do not think he would have agreed to go without her. She is a huge part of our family and I think that helps him feel less alone there. He made it through Thanksgiving with her, and now we are working on the rest of the holidays and being separated. The boys and I miss them both terribly but also know that they will be back home when Allen is better!!

Even Now......Gina

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Reflections on Allen's 3rd Alive Day

Today has been a very hard day for the last 3 years. 3 years ago today it was the day before Thanksgiving and my family had gathered at my sister's house for Thanksgiving. We were busy preparing for the big meal the next day when my cell phone rang. I looked at caller ID and saw Allen's ex wife's number. I figured it was my step son calling to wish us a Happy Thanksgiving. Little did I know, my life was going to change drastically after that phone call.

The army had tried to get in touch with me for several hours but had only been calling my home number. Allen's command had not bothered to check his emergency contact list to get my cell number. When they couldn't reach me, they finally gave up and called Allen's dad who also did not know my cell number. He then called Allen's ex wife hoping she had my number, which she did. So, imagine my surprise when I answer my phone expecting my step son, but instead hear his ex wife's voice. I remember her telling me she had something she had to tell me but that I needed to sit down. She said the army had been trying to get in touch with me and I needed to call my father in law. She also said that Allen had been critically injured in Iraq but that was all she knew. I hung up with her and called my father in law. He said the same thing and that I needed to call a number. At this point, my dad took over the call for me because I was in shock. The details are very fuzzy to me after this point.

I do know that I flew to Walter Reed on Sunday and finally got to see my husband. He was excited to see me but then was ready to get back to his guys! He's definitely a soldier! He ended up being in ICU that night and then moved to the floor the next day. Allen remained in the hospital there for almost 2 weeks and then was out patient there until the middle of March. Thankfully, I was able to stay there with him that entire time.

Looking back at all of this, I can honestly say that we've been blessed. It was a terrible thing that happened to him, but then again war is a horrific event. He is haunted still by all that he saw and did the entire time he was there. We are all changed because of his selfless sacrifice of serving our great nation. I think everyone who was close to us at all has been changed by this. However, not all of the changes have been bad.

Allen has changed in every way. I've written about this many times, I can still see new changes all the time. But, I've come to realize this is just a part of life. True his changes may be due to a horrible incident, but he's still blessed. He meets new people quite often that end up becoming an important part of our life, as do I. Some of our closest friends are friends we've met because he was injured in Iraq. We never would have met these friends had this injury not occurred. Do not get me wrong, I would never wish this on anyone but I work really hard to see the positive in this entire situation. Thankfully, I usually do not have to look very far to see the blessings!

Today, I am writing in honor of my husband, my hero. I will forever be thankful that God chose to save him that day in Iraq. I also know that He didn't save him to come home and have a miserable life and this helps me keep going. While our road these 3 years have been difficult, we are still very blessed. If you've been a part of our life in anyway, thank you. We couldn't have made it this far without God and our wonderful family and friends.

Even Now......Gina

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


The summer of 2009 was a different summer for us. Allen had gotten really severe on his PTSD and he was still active duty. His WTU decided to send him to a program in San Antonio to get treatment for the summer. He was admitted to an in patient psych hospital that is privately owned called Laurel Ridge. Thankfully, the boys and I were able to go as well so that we could visit him everyday. We stayed nearby at the Guest House on Fort Sam Houston. The hospital Allen was at also would not allow him to keep Frankie with him so she stayed with us and went to visit each day. It was a very challenging summer but good in many ways. Allen received some good help and improved temporarily.

While we were there we met many wonderful people. One of those people came with the boys and I to visit Allen once and wrote about her experience in her own blog. Her words touched me greatly. I thought about them the other day and realized I had never shared them here on my own blog. So, I asked her permission which she graciously gave. Please enjoy and feel free to comment. Also, please visit her blog at . She does some amazing things!!

Here is her post:



I tell this story to let our soldiers with the invisible wounds know they are not alone and their service and sacrifices do not go unnoticed. And I tell it for you. So that when you go to sleep at night, you will remember Allen Hill and the price of freedom.

Sometimes things happen in our lives that cause us to stumble and temporarily be thrown off balance. We grumble about the heat and the inconveniences of a freeway traffic jam, and we worry about the unimportant and mundane occurrences in our everyday lives that appear to us to be so earthshaking and insurmountable.

And then sometimes things happen that allow us to reach the center of what is most important. We suddenly awaken to what people we have never met, in a place we have never heard of, endured and will endure for the remainder of their lives to keep us free. Everyday, in every way, these American heroes lay their lives on the line to protect us. I find that extraordinarily humbling. And I find it remorseful that they aren’t appreciated more for their service and sacrifices.

It was a late 107 degree July Monday afternoon in San Antonio. I drove to a psych hospital where twenty soldiers are undergoing treatment for the invisible wound called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.) I had met many, many soldiers at Walter Reed and Brooke Army Medical Center with this injury, but none had effected me quite like Allen. Allen’s story first captured the heart of America when he and his wife were on a national television program focusing on the devastating effects of PTSD and how his service dog, Frankie, from Puppies Behind Bars in New York alerts him to his debilitating and reoccurring flashbacks by jumping on his lap and licking his face until he focuses on the present once again and the unspeakable horrors of war are temporarily released, at least for a few minutes before striking again.

I had had the opportunity of spending some time with Allen’s wife Gina and their two kids the day before. She kindly invited me to visit her husband the next day. Little did I know the impact simply meeting him would have on my life.

As Allen approached the large round dining table in the cafeteria at the hospital, I noticed we were surrounded by families visiting loved ones, small children who had been horrifically sexually abused, and gang members looking somewhat lost. As soon as Allen entered the room, Frankie became alert, tail wagging. You could almost hear her saying, “Finally, there you are.”

Allen sat down with his dinner tray of chopped beef and rice and mixed vegetables. Frankie was in position, under the dining room table with both paws and head resting on Allen’s big red shoes. She waited! She waited for the man she listened to. Listening for that moment when she needed to alert him back to the real world once again.

I introduced myself and spoke with this soldier who had sacrificed his future for me and others like me. With a lump in my throat, I extended my hand which he shook with a handshake that told me a lot about this man. I told him what wonderful sons he had and that he should be very proud. This seemed to please him. I mentioned I hoped he was a little better every day and that therapy was helping. We talked about ‘baby steps’ and how talking to a counselor would help him release the horrors of war and that while they would never go away they would lessen to a degree and he would grow to recognize the triggers to these flashbacks easing their intensity somewhat. He told me that he had not shared everything with his therapist. I asked why and he simply said, “It is more than she could take. There were days I didn’t think I would live.” I told him, “She can take it, she can take it. She is trained to.” His eyes told me that those words feel on deaf ears. He wanted to spare her the pain of what he endured. This is the kind of man Allen is or maybe he couldn’t relive it one more time.

Gina and I talked for a while as Allen silently ate his dinner. But her eyes kept moving from my face to his. Ever vigilant, Gina quietly said, “He is beginning to have a flashback.” I turned and looked at an American hero who was staring blankly into space. A space filled with unspeakable horrors that come back to him without warning, blacking out all reality of the present. Gina stood and went to stand beside him. Allen is never combative in these flashbacks but his eyes and face tell the story. First his eye lids started to quiver and then twitch. His eyes never off of the horizon of a place and time we will never know. Then his face contorted somewhat. Gina, patting his cheeks and calling his name realized she needed help from a dog that knew exactly what to do.

Frankie was given one of eighty commands she learned at Puppies Behind Bars and placed both front paws on Allen’s chest and began licking and nudging his face. Literally in two to three seconds, Allen blinked and returned to us for a brief time, until it happened about ten minutes later.

This is his life. This is Gina’s life. This is the price of freedom, the freedom that allowed Allen to get up and bring back three pieces of strawberry cheesecake, one for each son and one for himself.

Allen may not be perfect, but in his imperfections, he taught me that the bottom line is how we deal with the tough stuff, what and who we passionately and truly love, and that people are not defined by their limitations. In Allen’s beautiful black eyes, I saw my own life reflected and wondered on the way home how I would cope in similar circumstances. I was keenly aware of those times in my life when I have needed to be carried – when I just couldn’t do it anymore – and who was there for me.

Allen’s story is not so unique. Thousands of our wounded heroes are returning from combat with the same injury. Glimpses into their lives are full of struggles and coping and agony and despair. They feel excluded, isolated, and face unspeakable terrors at every corner at every moment of the day.

We all need someone willing to go looking for us when we’re lost. We all want to find our way home again and sometimes it just isn’t that easy. “When I came home, I had to learn to be an American again.” Occasionally the flashbacks cause him to search his house for insurgents. It is then that Frankie takes Allen outside of his flashbacks and panic attacks into the here and now in a matter of seconds. Without Frankie the flashbacks could last hours.

At the end of the day what I write about turns out to deal with my deepest concerns and values. The important part is making the story powerful by expressing my authentic emotions. I write from my heart. Tonight I write about Allen.

Charles M. Schultz said, “A whole stack of memories never equal one little hope.” For Allen and Gina and the kids, I have hope. And Frankie - well Frankie gives me goosebumps! Observant and ever vigilant Frankie teaches us that nuzzling can make a huge difference. So with Frankie the story is just beginning. This dog provides a new meaning to ‘rest in peace.’ With this dog under his arm Allen can find rest, and peace and sleep and perhaps life again. Not the same life, but life.

Frankie can convey encouragement, support, empathy, affection, humor and can elicit it in Allen. The abilities of both are enhanced by the presence of the other. Frankie is not there to talk about how Allen got in this predicament, but to focus on hope and the future.

So I ask you to remember Allen and Frankie. Hear what life is telling you. Let your heart guide you. It whispers - so listen closely. By risk there is more to be gained than lost. Allen risks life minute by minute every day. With Frankie and Allen’s courageous companionship and allegiance to each other they just might be kindred spirits. Observing, I have learned to acknowledge that your soul mate helps you be your best self…so that your soul can do the most for the world. And sometimes your soul mate just might be a yellow lab named Frankie.

Allen has already done his best for the world. I like to think that what happened to Allen happened for us. For us to learn to appreciate our freedom and all the young men and women like him who sacrifice for us as we go about our daily duties completely unaware of their existence.

Allen and Frankie showed me that waiting for the ‘right time’ we spend much of our lives waiting. Allen fought so that we have this freedom to make a choice, to make a stand, to make our lives brilliant with joy and happiness, to make our lives count. For this I will be eternally grateful to this man I met today. I would miss him had we never met.

On the way home I realized that whatever comes from my heart has been given to me as a gift. I must give it honor. Allen will eventually heal to some degree from the past and I believe people who are fortunate enough to meet him will accept the gifts he has to offer their futures. Allen may not know it but our lives are now woven together, for on this hot Texas afternoon our dreams collided. For him the battle will never end. War ends but the battles don’t. For Gina and Allen love doesn’t fit into a nice shiny mold. But it fits.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Patriotism and Respect

I've mentioned several times that I am volunteering in our youngest son's classroom twice a week! It is a great way I take care of myself! I am a certified teacher and used to teach before Allen's injury so it is awesome getting back into the classroom. I have also decided that volunteering is so much more fun than being the one in charge!!

Reciting the pledge of allegiance in school's today is very controversial. I am happy to say that the school my son attends still recites it everyday, and all together. One child is chosen to go to the office in the morning to lead the school in the Pledge of Allegiance. I think this is amazing! I love being there for this time!

During red ribbon week a couple of weeks ago, our school had a hat day. The kids were all allowed to wear hats to school for the entire day. Dreyson wore his beloved Cat in the Hat hat. I think they had about 100% participation this day. I happened to be there this day in time for the Pledge. As I watch the class of second graders stand, I was brought to tears when my son was the only one who removed his hat to recite the pledge! The tears were of sadness as well as the immense pride I felt for my son.

After the Pledge was over, I quietly went to my son and whispered in his ear, "Thank you for remembering to remove your hat!" He gave me a great smile and a thumbs up! I couldn't have been more proud that day! My son's teacher saw our interaction and then questioned us as to what was going on. I tried to just say nothing but she wouldn't let it go. So, I told her what I had said to him. She too told him that she was proud of him and that she hadn't even thought about that or noticed.

I love his teacher for many reasons, (I used to teach with her and have known her for most of my life), but what she did later that day was amazing. That afternoon, after I had left for the day, she had the entire class practice reciting the pledge with their hats removed. She explained to them the importance of removing their hat and showing respect to our great nation! She also stopped me after school to apologize for not catching it herself!

I feel very blessed that I have a 7 year old with so much respect and patriotism! I am also blessed that he has such an amazing teacher that would take the time out of her very busy day to teach her class this very lesson!

Even Now......Gina


I just want to give a little update on us since my last post was mostly ranting! We are all doing well. Allen hasn’t had any more bad nights since my last post and seems to be doing pretty well. I did encourage him to talk to his doctor about changing the ambien. I do not like the things he does when taking this medication and he has no memory of it. He just has really bizarre behavior and has a hard time deciphering reality from dreams. He has taken lunesta before and did not have those adverse side affects.

This week they have big visitors as The Pathway Home they have all been getting ready for. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill are going to be there most of the week hanging out and then wrapping it up with a concert that the vets will be honored at. I can’t wait to hear all about how these days go. I think it is great that they (Tim and Faith) are doing this. It is also great to see such big celebrities doing it for the right reasons, without cameras and publicity tagging along to show how much they do. That just shows their class and that they are truly doing it all for the right reasons!

The boys are doing well. Our 14 year old son is doing great in school and getting ready for basketball season to start. Our youngest who is 7 is also doing great in school. He is currently taking a musical theatre class thanks to a grant we received from Our Military Kids and is loving it! They are doing a small production next month and he has one of the lead parts as Humpty Dumpty.

I am also doing great! At times, I get pretty lonely and really miss my husband. However, I’m not sure I would really be that much less lonely even if he were home with us. Being the spouse of a combat wounded veteran can be very lonely. Many of us are married to men we have to get to know again once they come home from war. Our husband’s are changed in every way and therefore it is difficult to relate at times. This creates a struggle which is extremely frustrating for both sides. I know that my husband remembers what he used to be like and frequently states that he just wants to be who he used to be. That has to be frustrating. Then there is pressure added in by family members who love and miss the person they used to be. It ends up being a vicious cycle that we have to be conscience of so that it doesn’t destroy us. I think, most days my family does a great job managing this struggle, but one we have to be constantly aware of.

I am busy running the boys around, volunteering, and just spending time doing the things I love to do. I’ve been going to lunch with friends, catching up with old friends, reading, volunteering, and many other things. I am enjoying the freedom and the time I have been able to spend focusing on myself and our boys. I’ve seen a big improvement in the boys and my relationship with them. It has been exciting to see the transformations in all of us.

Even Now.......Gina

Monday, November 1, 2010


I am all fired up this morning and I'm not even sure why. I think I am on the verge of tears and have been brewing since I got up. So, I am taking the time to write. That is what seems to help me the most so I will apologize now for the rants and if it doesn't flow well or make any sense. At least you will know that it helped me!!

First of all, Allen had a couple of bad nights recently. He has been at the Pathway Home now for 7 weeks. The first 5 weeks were unbelievable. I saw so much improvement in him just through talking to him on the phone. Maybe it gave me a false sense of hope. Not that I'm not hopeful, but it seemed so perfect those first few weeks and now, not so much. The first imperfect week he was really moody. Every conversation we had started out with, "Today is not a good day". By Saturday, the 6th day in a row of hearing that, I sort of lost it. I was to the point that I did not even want to talk to him. Then I felt like the bad guy. What is wrong with me? I did not even want to talk to my husband whom I hadn't seen in a month. But man, sometimes you have to bend down, pick yourself up, let things go, and decide, "Today is going to be a good day!" I had a good conversation with Allen, and said about those exact things to him on Saturday. Our talk went well and I think it did really help. The next week was better, but not as good as those first 5 weeks. Then this weekend came and he had a trip to the ER by ambulance and then crazy phone calls to me. The ER trip ended up fine, they think he may be having seizures again. Not a great thing, but not life threatening either. The phone calls though, they have me a little more worried.

Saturday night, the boys and I were at a Halloween party and Allen knew that's what we were doing. Usually, he handles us doing stuff really well. He wants us to be happy and not worry about him. I talked to him right before the party and he asked me to call him when I got home. No problem! However, that is not how our evening went down. The first part of it was great. Then, the texting started. It wasn't anything, just chatting really. Then the voicemails because I didn't have much of a signal where we were. This is so not like him. He was almost clingy. I guess that is the best way I can describe it. So, I finally got home and called him. He was fine, not really sure what he even really wanted. I am thinking maybe he's just homesick. We chatted a bit and then said goodnight and went to bed. Well, when I go to bed, I shut off my cell phone. When I woke up Sunday morning and turned my phone back on, I had a voicemail. That was a little odd since I didn't shut my phone off until like midnight and was turning it back on before 8 am. It was a nurse at The Pathway Home telling me about the ER trip. I called and it was over and fine, so no problem.

Sunday, the multiple phone calls from Allen and texts as well start again. Since he's been gone we usually talk once or twice a day but that is about it. He is not a big texter so this is kind of weird. I didn't think too much about it, but I had a funny little feeling. I took Dreyson trick or treating but again, the phone calls. This time, he was beginning to act a little bit confused but not too much. I think only because I know him so well, did I notice. We talked again before I went to bed and he was watching football. I told him I was tired and going to bed and he seemed fine. Once again, I shut off my cell phone and went to bed. A little after 10:30 my house phone rings. It about made my heart stop! It was Allen just wanting to talk again. He apologized for scaring me and we chatted a bit. The longer we chatted though the more confused he became. He started telling me he was playing football instead of just watching it and really thought he was in the game. I asked to talk to one of his nurses and he put her on the phone. She said he had just taken his night meds and they were trying to convince him to go to bed. The meds had just kicked in and he needed sleep. He is on a lot of medications that are sedating, and this isn't too unusual.

The problem is, he is in California and I am in Kansas. I finally was able to go back to sleep, although now I'm getting kind of worried. 11:19 my house phone rings again. It's him again but this time he isn't saying anything. I finally hang up and call the nurse's station to check on him. They say he's fine, he's just fighting sleep and not wanting to just go to bed. I ask her to take his phone from him so I can get some sleep. I do manage to get back to sleep, but I woke up fired up this morning.

It is so hard being a caregiver to a spouse to begin with. I've been doing this for almost 3 years now. So, I am used to being in control and calling all the shots. Even doctor's will ask me what I think they need to do. (I don't really like that much control!) It is good that there is some distance between us so that I can learn to let go of some of that. It is good that he is working on getting better. But, it is so dang hard. I've not been away from him since his injury. I was great when things were going good. But now, this is hard. I just have a feeling something isn't right but I'm not sure what it is. It's not like I can really call them up and say, "Hey, I have a feeling something isn't right with my husband, but I have no idea what or why, can you fix it please?" I really don't think that is going to work. With his confusion this weekend, I don't think I can really mention it to my husband either. It is just really hard being here with him there and not seeing first hand what is going on. I know he's in a good, safe place and I just have to trust and be okay with that.

When I started this post, I had no idea this is where it was going to go. I really thought it was going to go in a totally different direction. I'm really frustrated with the general public not knowing what is going on with our returning troops. I guess that's why writing is good for me, it lets me get out what is really going on. Thanks for being patient with my rant! I have a feeling another one will be coming soon about the above mentioned subject!!

Even Now......Gina

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


I often talk about blessings we have received since Allen's injury. Trust me, we have received plenty. I am so thankful to be able to see the good in such a time of turmoil and tragedy. Some days it is difficult, but most of the time, the good shines brightly on our lives.

One of the blessings we have received came in the form of a machine called EMMA. EMMA is an electronic medication management assistant, lovingly referred to in our house as the pill ATM. EMMA helps Allen manage his medications independently and safely. We have 2 of these units which each hold 10 medications. They sit on our kitchen counter and do an incredible job!

EMMA is amazing. She does so many things and can really be individualized for each patient. Allen takes medications four times a day and she can be programmed for up to five times a day. When it is time for him to take his meds, a very obnoxious alarm sounds. He then enters a code on the machine's touchscreen. The machine then drops the medications that are due at that time. It gives him a little bit of time to take his meds, then alerts again for him to confirm that he has taken them. (This is very helpful in that he can't walk away and forget them.) If he forgets to take his meds or happens to be outside and misses them, I get a phone call on my cell phone. EMMA calls me to tell me that my spouse has not taken his medications!

Another great feature of EMMA is a vacation drop. If we are going to be out of town for a few days, or a single day, we can do a vacation drop. We enter the day we are leaving and the day we are returning. EMMA then drops each dose scheduled for those days individually and tells me to put each dose in a ziploc bag and label it. It then continues for each dose for the length of our vacation. Later, when we are away, EMMA calls my cell phone when it is time for Allen to take his medications, just like the alarm does when we are at home!

There are also capabilities for doing a single drop and those for PRN (as needed) medications. It will not let medications be dropped too close together. For example, Allen takes medications for migraines on an as needed basis. If he can take them every 6 hours, it will not let any drop before the 6 hour time frame has passed. It will tell you on the screen the next drop time available.

EMMA is set up with a monitoring system, much like that of a home security system. That is how this all works. EMMA communicates regularly, through wireless internet or cell phones. Because of this monitoring, medical professionals can see many things about their patient. The doctor can make medication changes remotely and also check on the patient's compliance with taking their medications. The possibilities are really endless with what can be done with this wonderful machine!

As a full time caregiver, EMMA definitely makes my life easier as well. Before receiving EMMA last February, medication management was my job. Allen takes 17 different meds and I was responsible for dispensing them all. It was quite a job and took a lot of time each day. If I was going to be gone, I had a huge job in making sure whoever was going to fill in for me, knew exactly what to do in regards to the meds. This usually was my mom or sister and it put a lot of added stress and responsibility on them. EMMA takes all of this away. She does this part of the caretaking for me!! It is a huge relief when I am away to know that Allen's meds are all safely administered.

On a personal note, EMMA actually saved my husband's life. A few months ago, Allen figured out a way to beat her. He has a code to enter that drops his medications and another to load/unload the machine. Because EMMA does not let him get his medications too close together, he decided to unload a card of pills and took most of them, and then put the card back in. (We have now set the machine so that he does not have the codes to load/unload the machine so this can't happen again.) I knew something was wrong but wasn't sure what. I called EMMA support to check everything out and they could tell me everything that had been done to the machine. They were able to tell me he had taken out a card, at what time, how many were in it when he took it out, and how many were in it when he put it back in. Without EMMA, I would have had no idea what was wrong for who knows how long. Instead, I was able to get him to the ER and to medical treatment. Everything worked out, but I am glad I did not have to see what would have happened without EMMA.

To learn more about EMMA go to or find her on facebook at .

Monday, October 18, 2010

Calling 911

When Allen first returned home from Walter Reed, he received a phone call from our chief of police who wanted to welcome him home and thank him for his service. He also extended an invitation to Allen to let him know if there was ever anything he could do for him or our family. Little did he know, there was plenty he could do for us!

I remember back to that time and it was much easier than it has been recently. My husband has definitely progressively gotten worse in terms of his PTSD and the other monsters that go with it. I specifically remember the first time that I felt that I needed to call 911 for help with him but I was too afraid to make the call. We were in the truck and the tornado sirens began going off like they do every Monday for the test at noon. It triggered a dissociation for him and I wasn't sure what was going to happen. At this time, he hadn't had a lot of these episodes so I obviously had much less experience dealing with them. I remember thinking that if I could just get him into the house, he would snap out of it. He would be home and that should automatically bring him back because it is our home not Iraq. Needless to say, it didn't. I had called my dad to meet me at my house to help me get him into the house. We managed to get him inside and it seemed to make the episode worse. He began searching my house much like he would have had to clear a building in Iraq. I could tell that he thought he had a gun in his hand just by the way he moved and carried himself. This went on for a long time, several hours actually. I managed to keep him in the house, and therefore I felt it was still safe. Several times my dad and I discussed calling 911 but I was deathly afraid that something terrible would happen so I chose not to make the call.

After that incident, I decided to call our chief of police and make an appointment. I knew that I could not be afraid to call if I needed them but I also knew that many veteran's end up shot or tasered in instances with police. Allen planned to go to the meeting with me, but when the day came he didn't think he could handle it. So, once again I called on my dad.

We went to the meeting and I am so glad that we did. We explained to him Allen's story and his current situation. We made sure to let them know that we had no weapons in the house, he had not ever been combative, but he may not respond to directions from anyone. The Chief offered to put an alert on our 911 system so that if a call comes in for our address an alert pops up to let them know all of the above information. It also says for them to respond with no lights, no sirens and for them to find me to ask me what needs to be done.

What an amazing outcome! The chief then followed all of this up with an email he sent out to all of his officers telling of our meeting and what they could expect if they respond to a call at our house. We have had to call 911 many, many times since that meeting and every time it has been a great response from the police, EMT's and firemen. (In our small town, often all 3 respond to a call.) The last time we called it could have had a very different ending, but because of our proactive approach, it ended great for everyone.

As I've said, Allen is currently in a program in California receiving treatment for his PTSD. Before he comes home, we plan to meet with the Chief again to give him an update and I might go give a short personal briefing to the officer's just as a refresher as well as a thank you. We have also talked with one officer about bringing our boys down to the station to meet some of the officers and to educate them on tasers just in case they ever do have to witness their dad being tasered. Of course we pray that never happens, but it is much better to be prepared in advance!!

As a wounded warrior caregiver and wife, I often have to think outside of the box to make sure all of our bases are covered at all times. I encourage any of you to do the same. Reach out to those in your community that you may need to call on at times for help. It always helps to let people know what you might need before you need it.

Even Now........Gina

Thursday, October 7, 2010

My Own Guilt

Since my husband is away getting treatment for his PTSD, I have had a lot of me time! It has been invigorating, relaxing, amazing, and on and on with the good verbs! However, with this has come some guilt and some self reflection. It's not been quite 2 weeks yet that he has been away and I've been back home, but that is more time than I've had for myself in a very long time! It has been over 5 years now that we've been dealing with deployments and injury. That is a long time!!

Before he left for California, I had a hard time imagining what I was going to do with myself. I even became a little panicky on the inside thinking about it. I knew that I would go volunteer at the Animal Shelter a few days a week, but I also knew that would not fill all of my time. I thought about trying to get a job, but then thought that might not be the best idea since we do not know how long Allen will be away, and quite frankly, I need to focus on my kids and myself for awhile! I thought I also might volunteer in our youngest son's classroom. I used to teach and thought that might be good for our son and me. Then I realized, I am doing it again. I am trying to schedule everything so that I do not have any time to myself! I had to really take a step back and figure out how much time I really want to volunteer, and how much time I should leave open for just whatever else comes up.

So, I think after almost 2 weeks I finally have it figured out. I am volunteering at the animal shelter 3 days a week for 2 hours each day. I am volunteering at Dreyson's classroom one morning a week for 3 hours. That leaves me 2 days, completely free during the week to do everything else, and to do something nice for me!

This week I met a friend in the city for lunch. It was a great time and I am looking forward to doing it again soon! However, driving up there that morning I had a lot of guilt. I realized that I had taken my time to get ready and actually really cared about my appearance. I put some thought into what I would wear and took the time to enjoy my shower, do my hair, and actually go out looking like I somewhat cared about myself. Thinking about this on the way to my lunch date, I was feeling really guilty. I imagined that people might start thinking and noticing that now that my husband was gone, I was trying to look good! The thought of someone actually thinking this about made me sick to my stomach! It is crazy what these types of feelings and thoughts can do to me!

The more I thought about this the more I understood what was happening. I feel guilty because I do not normally do those things for my husband. It's not because I don't love him or care what he thinks of me. It's because I am simply exhausted and so busy taking care of everyone else, that I never take the time or use the energy to do those things for myself. There is absolutely nothing for me to feel guilty about and if anyone wants to think those things about me, then I can't stop it anyway!!

After I dealt with the guilt, I actually enjoyed myself! I have always known in my head that I had to take care of myself first. However, when I was in the middle of it all, I couldn't really understand the importance of that. I always thought that I would eventually take care of myself and since I wasn't physically sick, I was fine. I would get around to me when everything else was done. It is just that everything else never gets done. There is always something.

I am so happy that Allen is away getting himself better. It is hard not having him here, but in some ways it is also a relief. I am really embracing this time to focus on my kids and on myself! I can't wait to see what happens with my husband, myself, and our family. I have a lot of hope and it feels really good.

Even Now........Gina

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Desperate Actions

I read an article today about a wounded warrior in North Dakota and his armed stand off with police in an attempt to get them to shoot him. This has been on my heart since reading it this morning so I thought I would share some of the things that are unsettled in my heart.

This article touched me deeply and has me thinking about a lot of things. I'm also praying for this family and all of our wounded and their families. It is heartbreaking that these heroes are crying out for help, and have very few places to find the help. All too often, they are left feeling desperate which leads to desperate behavior and actions. Now, instead of getting the help he needs, he is facing 3 felonies and other misdemeanor charges. Is this really how we treat our nation's heroes? How loud does the cry have to get for something to be done?

Thankfully, my husband is now at The Pathway Home getting help for his PTSD. However, we searched several months, and this is not the first time we have searched, to find somewhere that looks promising. There are not many programs out there that treat PTSD in veterans and once they are off of active duty, insurance will not pay for that treatment. The reasoning I am told, is because it is the VA's job to treat PTSD.

This does not leave much room for hope for veteran's out there searching for help. My husband does not have issues with substance abuse like so often happens with PTSD. So, finding a program that treats PTSD alone is difficult if not next to impossible. I feel very blessed that we were able to get him into the program he is in now. However, I often drift to the question of what will we do if it doesn't work? You see, he has been in patient before. He has tried everything the Army has as well as the VA except for the 7 week program the VA has. He's not stable enough for that so he's left out there to flounder. If this program doesn't work, I don't know that there is anything left at this time, to give us hope of his healing. It's no wonder these guys are doing desperate things.

My husband's story came dangerously close to being a newspaper headline. The Saturday night before we flew to the Pathway Home on Monday, could have been headlines. I'm not going to go into many details here simply to protect my husband's privacy. (But, more importantly, I do not want people to be afraid of him. I am able to separate his illness from him. Other's can't.) I did have to call 911 at 0400 and we did end up with police, ambulance, and a firetruck at our house. Thanks be to God that nothing tragic happened and I was able to get him the help he needed to keep everyone safe. While it was an extremely difficult night, we did witness many miracles and I thank God for that. Monday morning, my sister and I flew with him to California, rented a car, and drove him to the Pathway Home. This was almost 3 weeks ago and he seems to be doing very well there. Time will tell if it is able to help him get that safety, peace, and joy he so deserves.

I think about all of this daily, our own story as well as those I hear from other wives and family members. The only thing I can figure out for the question of why isn't the military and VA doing more so these stories aren't playing out time and time again is that they simply have no idea what to do. Both the military and the VA are overwhelmed by PTSD and TBI as well as all the other conditions they are treating. They know the problems are there but really have no idea what to do about them. They are grasping at straws, desperate to find anything, and quickly, that can bail them out and help our vets. I don't think it's that they do not care, it is just that they can't seem to find anything to help and therefore spend a lot of time spinning their wheels or closing their eyes. However, we as a nation, have to do something to help our heroes.

Please keep this family in North Dakota, our family, and all the families injured in Iraq/Afghanistan in your thoughts and prayers.

Even Now........Gina

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Remembering 9/11

Today is always full of many different feelings for me. I remember the day that changed America forever clearly. I was teaching Middle School and had a class full of 8 graders when another teacher came to my door and told me what was going on. We ended up setting up televisions in several rooms and the teacher's lounge. It was next to impossible to stop watching. It was really hard explaining to the kids what was going on. I also remember going outside our school, which is a rural school out in the middle of nowhere. It is not even in a town! The sky was so clear and beautiful that day. And all across it, we could see all of the vapor trails from the planes trying to land. Later in the afternoon, the sky was clear, not a plane to be seen anywhere.

That day, I barely knew Allen. I knew that the events would change every American's life, I just never expected it to change mine so drastically. Here I was a teacher, in rural, central, America, a single mom and no plans to change much of anything in my life anytime soon. Little did I know, several years later, my life would be changed beyond anything I could imagine. I now find myself reflecting on how that day profoundly changed my life.

Today, I pause to remember the events of that day. I mourn the lives lost that day and all the days since, as our Heroes fight to make sure I still have my freedom. I mourn the loss of the way America used to be, before 9/11. I celebrate the patriotism that has been rekindled in our great nation. I also celebrate the life of my husband, whose own selfless sacrifices haunt him daily. Lastly, I pray for peace, for our nation as well as that of my family and all those families affected by that day 9 years ago.

Today, September 11, 2010, I honor all of America's heroes, both past and present!

Even Now........Gina

Friday, September 10, 2010

Caregiver's Bill

Yesterday I did a survey for caregiver's of OIF/OEF vets. It took about 20 minutes and asked questions I expected. However, I often wonder if, statistically speaking, am I truly considered a caregiver. At the AW2 Symposium, I had the opportunity to ask a General that question. He gave me his political answer, which I expected. I just pray that when he is sitting inside those meetings where they are discussing the parameters of the new caregiver's bill, he will remember me and a little bit of our story.

For a long time, we have been frustrated with the fact that my husband does not qualify for much of anything when it comes to the "benefits" related to being injured. I'm not talking about VA benefits here, but other things like TSGLI and some other help from non profit organizations. It seems that since his physical wounds have heeled and he can dress himself, feed himself, shower, transfer, and use the bathroom on his own, we do not qualify for much needed assistance. In my opinion, if he can't be left alone because of his psychiatric injuries, then he needs just as much assistance as the ones who need help doing the tasks of daily living. After applying twice, we did finally qualify for the minimum TSGLI which I think is unfair as well. He can physically do the things they require, but if left alone, he might wander out into the street, in traffic, and not have clue what's going on around him. If he gets triggered, he might run out of the house and take off completely unresponsive to anything around him. The list goes on and on.

So, it will be very interesting to see how this Caregiver's Bill plays out. Will I be considered a full time caregiver for my husband? I've been told by several people who are in positions to have an inside scoop, that we should not have anything to worry about. We should definitely fall into the circle of those who are happy and not left outside looking in. However, we can't believe any of it until we see it. For those who do not qualify, it will be more stress and scrambling in trying to take care of their spouse and families. For many of us, we would give anything to go back to work and contribute to the financial well being of our families. I used to teach middle school before all of this happened and I loved it! There is no way though that I could return to any kind of a job now, let alone a career.

This bill also has more things than just money involved that make me excited. Respite care!! To be able to go out of town for a weekend with a friend and have someone paid to come in and take care of my husband would be amazing. As it stands now, if I want to do ANYTHING, I have to arrange for someone who can watch my kids and their dad. This doesn't make getting out too easy! Even just to be able to go to lunch with a friend or Christmas shopping on my own, and not have to worry about what's going on at home and who is watching who. My kids will not have the added responsibility of taking care of their dad while I run to the store. Maybe, they can just be Kids again to some degree.

The other thing it will cover is training me in taking care of him. Everything I know to do is what I've figured out on my own. You know it is bad when we are in a psychiatrist office and the doctor looks to me as to what to do when he starts having an "episode." An Army psychiatrist doing his med board evaluation even left the room when my husband dove to the floor, took out his table because a fire alarm went off in the building. The doctor actually said to me, "I'll just leave you two alone for a little while." That was that, he walked out and shut his door. I ended up being there for 3 hours trying to get my husband off the floor. I was irrate, but what could I do? So, actually having a professional tell me how to handle these "episodes" would be extremely helpful. Although, I must say, I'm not very hopeful that they really know what to do.

This all important bill is critical for many of America's Heroes and their Families. Please pray that it will apply to the many families like ours that may fall through the cracks, again!

Even Now......Gina

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Explanations Do Not Come Easy

This Labor Day weekend, our house has been filled with company. One of my husband's cousins and his family came to visit. It is the first time in the 9 years we've been together that anyone from his family has come to visit us. It is also the first time we have spent any amount of time with anyone from his family since his injury.

I'm thankful that he finally got to visit with some of his own kin. He loves my family like his own and they love him too. However, I'm sure that there is nothing like one's own blood relatives. We were all excited to have them visit, but it is definitely a struggle to try to keep it all together!

Overall the weekend went pretty well. However, I find it very difficult to explain what our life is like to someone who has no clue what PTSD is and how it can manifest itself, as well as all the other things that go along with it for Allen. He had several "flashbacks" which were relatively mild in comparison to some he has had. One night he did have one that was bad enough I had to force him into the shower and then put him to bed in order to break the cycle.

The other thing I have found is that everyone seems to have a magic solution for him. The best thing I can relate it to is when a woman is pregnant and everyone has to give her advice for what to do and how best to do it. Everyone seems to have advice and their ideas about what he needs to do to get better! Of course, they do not share these "ideas" with Allen, but with me instead!! Well, I'm thinking if you can't share them with him, maybe they aren't going to work for him!! And, if you have not ever been around someone with combat PTSD, please keep your ideas and suggestions to yourself. I have taken care of my husband now for almost 3 years with absolutely NO help or support from any part of his family. Please do not come in and tell me that all he needs to get over it is to spend more time with HIS family. Well as far as I'm concerned, his family consists of me, our boys, my parents, and sister! We have all been here through all of it and still love him!!

It seems to me that as often as I have to explain my husband's bizarre behavior, I would get used to it and have an explanation down pat. Yet, I still struggle with explaining it even this far out. I expect to have to explain it to kids who witness one of his flashbacks or episodes, but adults are harder for me. Hopefully one of these days, society as a whole will start to get it!!

Even Now........Gina

Friday, September 3, 2010

Hope in The Pathway Home

I think I've already mentioned that this summer has not been a good time in our lives. My husband has been very up and down and on the edge of stability for a few months now. In July he spent a week in the psychiatric floor of the VA trying to get a grasp on life again. It did help him stabilize but he still teeters very close to that edge constantly.

Before leaving the VA in July, we had a plan. The doctor there had contacted a doctor in another near by VA that has the in patient PTSD program. We were told that they were not going to release him until they had a firm plan in place and that they did not want him going home for more than 2-3 weeks before getting into a PTSD program. Well, obviously that 2-3 weeks passed quite some time ago, because here it is September and we are still waiting for that spot to open up that was promised to us by the first part of August.

Last week, after jumping through all the hoops to get into the program at the VA, I was fed up. We had originally tried some other options while he was in the hospital which did not work out. We learned that although he has medicare, tricare, and VA, the only one that will pay for PTSD treatment is the VA. It is the VA's responsibility after all. Therefore we thought that any other options were really out of the question. But, as fed up as I was, I thought I'm going to look around anyway.

While I was searching, I happened upon an article in the Smithsonian Magazine about a program in California called The Pathway Home. It is a program that Allen had already been accepted into a year prior but had decided not to attend because there was concern that he would learn to function in a program but not in the real world and become a "professional" patient. Well, I really thought it would be a dead end too, but decided to send an email to inquire as a last chance. Thankfully I did send that email. The next morning I had an email back telling us we should have his doctor at the VA fill out the application for him and send it in ASAP and they would see what they could do. They are funded through grants and private donations so they are not limited by insurance companies or the VA. I begin seeing some hope in our future but am still afraid to get my hopes up too high. I did mention it to my husband, read the article to him, and he thought it sounded good. However, he is very apprehensive about anything and does not want to be disappointed again.

The day we had the email back he also had an appointment with his psychiatrist at the VA. We took a copy of the article to him to see what he thought. He was very impressed with the program and thought that we definitely should pursue it. We left his office with a little more hope. We went straight to his case manager's office and began filling out the application and the next day it was complete, signed, and faxed in. By Friday, everything was turned in and it was time for us to just wait. I had emailed back and forth with the administration lady, Kathy, several times and my hopes were rising. It sounded very promising for Allen getting in and quickly.

Monday came and went and I still had not heard anything. Tuesday I sent an email to make sure they had received everything they needed. They had and we needed to pick a date in a couple of weeks for him to go! We couldn't believe it! Finally, we were beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel and we were beginning to believe it wasn't a train!! So, our date was chosen, September 20 and we applied for airline tickets from Air Compassion. Yesterday we received our E-tickets and are beginning to prepare for this newest step in healing.

I'm excited about the possibilities. I'm praying for Allen to find peace within himself and his life so that he can relax and find a little bit of joy in life. Even if he doesn't get to a place where he is comfortable out and about, at least for him to have peace in our home would be a huge improvement. I'm also looking forward to a little bit of me time! My sister is going to fly with us and we are going to spend a few days together in California for a little R&R for me. It will be hard having him away, but in the end, I pray it is all worth it!!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Addicted to the Computer

The computer has been a sore spot in our life for quite some time. Actually, I think it has been an "issue" for almost the length of Allen's injury. The problem, as I see it, is that Allen has great difficulty managing his time and spends the majority of his waking hours in front of his computer. Don't get me wrong, I spend time on the computer as well, but I do manage to do other things daily and am able to communicate in person and not solely through the computer or some other form of technology.

This computer addiction all started when he began attending online classes. The classes were very difficult for him with all of his injury "stuff" and therefore he spent every waking moment working on them. Even with all of that time in front of the computer, he still had an extremely difficult time retaining the information he was trying to learn. Currently, he has taken a leave of absence (for over a year now) from his online program while he works to get himself into a more stable place.

Even though he's not taking classes anymore, he spends the majority of his wake hours on his computer. Occasionally he watches movies, but more often than not he is on the internet. He claims he is researching "stuff". The latest obsession seems to be anything related to sniper's and their weapons. When asked about this recently in his psychiatrists office, he simply answered "they make the best guns."

None of this is what really bothers me about his computer time. Although I must admit, the constant researching of weapons and snipers is of concern to me. However, the thing that really gets me is that he emails people frequently when he can't seem to speak a complete sentence to anyone here in his own house!

This weekend is a prime example. Yesterday he spent the majority of his day outside working on the truck. (The time he is not on his computer, in bed, or at an appointment, he's outside working on something and he doesn't want to be disturbed by anyone.) Of the few words that were exchanged through us, it was apparent that he was in a mood not to be messed with. He was pissed off at the world. I know this not by words or actions, but more because of the way he carries himself and his body language. Before his injury, he was NEVER like this. He was the most even tempered person I'd ever met. So, yesterday no communication between him and anyone else. This morning he got up with our youngest early because I wanted to sleep in for a little longer. He did not do this voluntarily, I had to push the issue. About an hour later, Dreyson came in and told me he couldn't find dad. I got up to look for him and found him locked in the bathroom, no lights on, which is not normal. We're lucky if he shuts the door! I asked him what was wrong and he said he just needed some peace and quiet and it was peaceful in the bathroom. I then gave him the choice of going back to bed if that is what he needed to do. Of course, he said he did and headed to the bedroom and shut the door. We didn't see him again until 4:00 this afternoon when he came out, took meds, made a sandwich and then got on his computer. His fingers were pounding away and so I asked him what he was doing. He was emailing his old good buddy so and so. I didn't say anything, but my heart hurt. The entire weekend he had not hardly spoken to anyone here in his physical life, but then he gets up and emails people he hasn't seen in years.

I know that he loves us more than anything. I also know that he would give anything to get better. But, his isolation is really hard not to take personal. It's a daily chore to keep remembering that it is the PTSD and TBI that makes him push us away, not him. Knowing all of this though, doesn't make it hurt any less.

Even Now...........Gina

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Separating Allen From Injury

I often hear the comment, "I don't know how you do it." For awhile this really bothered me, made me feel like I was handling our life different than anyone else would. My guess is that it is similar to the way Allen feels when someone calls him a hero. He would say, he was just doing his job. I never really know what to say.

I think that everything about life is a choice. We choose to get up everyday, live our life, and do what we do. I do not see that I am doing anything different than anyone else. Life hands everyone their share of ups and downs, although sometimes I think some get more of the downs than ups just like some get more ups than downs. I often think that God must trust me an awful lot, but that also gives me the strength to live this life, our life, everyday.

One thing that any spouse of a wounded warrior has to keep in mind is that our spouse has an injury, but the injury and our spouse are separate. The injury does not have to define who we are all the time, or who our family is. On those really tough days, or weeks sometimes, I constantly remind myself that what I am dealing with is the illness, not my husband. He developed this illness due to his courageous and selfless service to our country and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect always. Many times, this is not an easy task as he can be very difficult to deal with, but I know in my heart that it is not him, it is his illness. He would do ANYTHING to get past this monster called PTSD and that is what matters. Often it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but then all I have to do is remember, he doesn't want to be this way and he isn't choosing to be like this. He is fighting with all his strength to stay on top and win! And because I know these things, I can continue to do what I do to take care of him!

Even Now........Gina

Freedom of Speech

Being at home most days I find myself often perusing the internet for articles related to our post injury life. We are still trying to figure out the ins and outs that go along with being retired, but for the most part, I think we are figuring things out. Yesterday, while on facebook, I happened a long an editorial written by a Vietnam era spouse. It was a very negative spin on military families and the sacrifices they make daily.

The writings of Mrs. Martha Sisk stirred up a lot of emotions for me. In a nutshell she said that current soldiers and their families need to soldier up and stop whining about the sacrifices they are making for our country. (I am going to post the link to her article with this post just so you can read it for yourself and I do not have to quote all of it. Also, so that I do not misconstrue anything she says.) She herself is a wife a retired Vietnam era veteran so it makes her editorial even more offensive to me. Being a part of the military brings a sense of camaraderie and brotherhood which she obviously has forgotten about. We should be supporting each other not badmouthing.

At the end of her article, she does say that those who have died in the line of duty or those who are severely injured are not who she is talking about. So, where does my family fall in her opinion? This is actually a question I wonder about for a lot of people, especially the politicians, military, and VA.

I guess my biggest issue with her opinion is that if service members and their families are not sacrificing what exactly is it? Yes, our military today is a volunteer force. Yes I voluntarily married my husband knowing he was in the military. However, my kids did not choose to be born to a military family. Nor did any of us volunteer to have our lives turned upside down by the injuries we are living with due to the sacrifice my brave husband gave to his country. I don't see how anyone could view our sacrifice as us whining about things when if given the chance, he would do it all over again in a heartbeat. And, I would support him in that decision! I think that it is a sacrifice that we all make willingly and yes, we do and will need some help to make it through. However, that is not whining. After all, our sacrifices we willingly make, are what allows you to write your opinion and have it published!!

Mrs. Sisk's full article can be read at . I would love to hear other's comments!!

Even Now.........Gina

Monday, August 16, 2010

Falling Through the Cracks

It seems along this journey, if someone is going to fall through the cracks it is the guys like Allen. The ones with the "invisible" wounds. Sometimes I think they are the ones who need the most help, but I know that each of the wounded has their own journey equally as hard as the next guy. I am definitely not here to decide who has it the hardest or the best.

July was an extremely rough month for us and August isn't too far behind. It started with the 4th of July and hasn't stopped since! Around the middle of July, Allen plummeted. After struggling to take care of him for a week, I finally took him to the VA. He was just too far past what any home care could offer him. He needed 24 hour care. He was at his lowest point so far along this journey. We keep thinking things will get better, but so far, we've been on one heck of a roller coaster ride.

After a week in patient, plans were made for Allen to come home for 2-3 weeks while we wait for a bed to open in the PTSD treatment program at the VA in Topeka. It is a 7 week, in patient program and the only program the VA has to treat PTSD. We looked into taking him back to Laurel Ridge in San Antonio but insurance will not pay for it. A little unknown fact is that while Allen has medicare, tricare, and the VA, the VA is the only one that will pay for any type of PTSD treatment. So, our only option is what the VA will do and that is this 7 week program. The kicker is, to get into this program one has to be completely stable and independent. With his recent setback and inpatient stay, he is not considered very stable. So, after coming home and us speaking with the Topeka program administrator, we know our reality. Allen falls through the cracks. He realistically will not get in until October at the earliest and he must be completely stable to enter. Another hospital stay will not help him get into the program, although I'm not sure we are going to be able to avoid that. He is teetering right on the edge.

In the midst of all of this, we are changing some meds which never helps in the short term. It will be 4-6 weeks before it is fully in his system and he is trying his best to hold it together and stay on top instead of falling off. It is going to be a rough wait, but we really have no choice. This is all very scary for all of us. The boys never know what to expect and live in fear that something tragic will happen to their dad. I can never relax and have to constantly know where Allen is, what he's doing, and where his current mental state is riding. Allen has this all hanging over his head while he is desperately trying to hold it all together.

It is extremely frustrating and sad watching him slide down hill so quickly and not being able to do anything about it. I've searched for programs that might be able to help him but have not found anything out there. It seems our only option is to wait for the slot at the Topeka VA to open and pray that he is stable enough to complete their program. When his doctor at the Kansas City VA called the Topeka program they told them 2-3 weeks. Allen was good with that. Then 2 weeks passed and we made a call ourselves to Topeka and they tell us October at the earliest. This is devastating to a family already on the edge. I find it ridiculous that the VA is the only one who can treat PTSD in vets, but yet they do not have programs to meet the needs of those they are supposed to be treating. I know that Allen is not the only one who needs this!

Today he's struggling still. Not sure October will ever get here!!

Even Now,


Friday, July 16, 2010

The Oprah Winfrey Show

Wednesday, May 1, 2009, I had one of the most interesting and exciting phone calls of my life.  Kate, from Puppies Behind Bars called me to ask if we would be interested in flying to NY to film a segment for the Oprah Winfrey Show.  I was giddy with excitement and wanted to tell her yes immediately, but knew I had better talk to Allen about it first.  After all, the segment would feature him and Frankie reuniting with Roberto, the inmate who had raised and trained Frankie to be a service dog. 

The decision had to be made quickly.  If we accepted, we would fly to New York the following Tuesday, May 7.  As soon as I was off the phone with Kate, I called Allen.  His reaction was great and just what I had hoped for.  He simply asked me why I hadn't told her yes already!!  Of course though, since Allen is still on active duty, we had to get permission from his command for all of this, which ended up being the toughest part.  

The decision from Allen's command did not come quickly.  While we were waiting for this decision, Kate went ahead with preliminary plans for us to make the trip.  Finally, it came down to the last day and if we couldn't get approval, PBB would have to choose someone else to represent them.  Allen and I prayed that the right thing would happen and whatever that was, we would accept the answer.  Shortly after that, we had the call we had hoped for.  We were free to go and to do the interview.

On Tuesday, May 7th, Allen, Frankie, and I left for the airport to board our plane that would take us to Fishkill, New York.  We had a good day of travel and were met at the airport by Carl Rotans, the lead instructor for PBB.  We had first met Carl in Colorado when we were doing the initial training with Frankie.  He drove us to our hotel and we went to dinner with him and Gloria, the founder of PBB.  She explained the schedule for the next day.

Our day started at 8:00 am when we met with Gloria to drive to the Fishkill Correctional Facility.  We were both excited and nervous and could not wait to meet Roberto.  The filming part of it was just a bonus for us.  It was cool to be on the Oprah show and all, but the highlight for us was definitely getting to meet the inmates who put so much into these dogs that truly change the lives of wounded warriors.  

When we arrived at the prison, the film crew was outside waiting.  They wanted to film Allen and Frankie's arrival at the prison.  Frankie knew where she was the instant she exited the car.  She started forging ahead and was wagging her tail.  She was obviously very happy to be back.  Next, we went through security and were introduced to everyone involved in the day, including Glenn Close.  Glenn spent the entire day with us and conducted the interviews for the show.  She is an amazing woman, who is full of compassion and truly cares about this program and the impact it has on wounded warriors and the inmates. 
After security and the introductions, we were going to get to meet Roberto.  There was a long walkway outside and he was waiting at the other end of it.  Allen and Frankie proceeded to move closer to Roberto.  About half way there, Allen released Frankie's leash and let her run to him.  It was a very moving moment.  Frankie hesitated twice.  Roberto began calling her and she turned to Allen to see if it was okay for her to go.  This was a difficult thing for Allen.  He wanted to let her go, but it was hard for him to do so.  His anxiety levels rose, but he was able to stay strong and encourage her to go.  It was amazing.  

Throughout the day we had many opportunities to share stories with the inmates in the program and to hear their stories.  We went to their recreation yard and Frankie went to each inmate and greeted them and their puppies.  She definitely remembered!  We went to their pod and Roberto showed us his cell and where Frankie spent so much of her time.  He was very proud of what he has accomplished since entering the PBB program.  The program pays for the inmates to do correspondence classes that allows them to become certified in several programs.  Roberto has completed four programs and has the certificates proudly displayed on the wall of his cell.  He also had a letter that Allen had written to him on his wall.  He told us that it was one of his most prized possessions in all the world.  This means a lot to both of us.

After lunch, we went down to the PBB classroom.  Here, each inmate had the opportunity to speak to us.  They told us their name, how long they had been incarcerated, and what PBB means to them.  Many of them also told us how much they appreciated us coming back so that they had the chance to see for themselves what they were doing for people.  It gave them a face to put with all of their hard work.  At one point during this classroom time, I think everyone in the room was brought to tears.  It was very emotional and wonderful all at the same time.  These inmates have had their lives completely changed by the love and dedication of a puppy.  Allen has this same experience!  It is amazing to me, the similarities these men have with Allen.  They have lost their freedom he fought so hard to protect.  He fought for the safety of their family when they couldn't.  They are thankful to him while he is grateful to them.  They all have a scarlet letter, the inmates for their crimes, and Allen for the stigmas associated with the invisible wounds he bears.  The mirror of this entire experience was truly amazing!

As the end of the day drew near, we began to dread saying goodbye.  The inmates had to get back to their cells for count and they began slowly filing out.  Each one passed by us and said goodbye and a few final words.  This was by far, the hardest part of the day.  I didn't want to leave.  Allen and I still talk about this part of the day, and as I write this, it was over a month ago.  These men have truly changed their lives, or are on the path to turning them around.  Finally, Roberto was the last to leave.  While all of the inmates had a part in raising Frankie, Roberto was her primary raiser.  It was hard leaving him when he put so much into Frankie.  He helped give Allen his life back.  He helped bring my son's their daddy home.  He is amazing and we will forever be grateful to him for all he gave to us.   

Around 4:00 pm we walked back out the front doors of Fishkill Correctional Facility.  We then said our goodbyes to Glenn Close, who is absolutely amazing.  She is compassionate and truly cares for people.  We have so much respect and love for her after this moving day.  Thanks Glenn for all you do.  She even had her driver take some pictures of us with her with her iphone.  She emailed them to us the next day.  These are the only pics we have from that day as we were not allowed to take any electronics into the prison with us.  

Gloria took us back to the hotel and we were exhausted.  We did nothing that evening other than grab something to eat in our hotel.  The next morning, Carl drove us back to the airport and we flew home.  It was an amazing trip and we are so thankful that Puppies Behind Bars chose us to represent them.  

To check out some blogs that Glenn wrote about this day go to .  You can also purchase things from this site and have a portion of the proceeds donated back to PBB.  Purchasing the Chewy shoe gives the Dog Tags program $2.00 for every toy purchased.  Please visit this site.  In order to learn more about the Dog Tags program, go to .  

Even Now........Gina