The Choices Faced by a Busted-Up Veteran
Synopsis and Key Points:
I was not prepared for the realities I was facing when I became disabled.
Main DigestI was not prepared for the realities I was facing when I became disabled. Much of the problem was mental; I felt, somehow, as though I had become less valuable to society. I was brought up on the work ethic, and to not be able to work, I felt I was a burden on my family and society as a whole. I gave up, and as so many, contemplated suicide.
I was not prepared for the realities I was facing when I became disabled. Much of the problem was mental; I felt, somehow, as though I had become less valuable to society. I was brought up on the work ethic, and to not be able to work, I felt I was a burden on my family and society as a whole. I gave up, and as so many, contemplated suicide. Luckily for me, I had access to some great mental health providers through the VA. More luckily for me, as is easily attested by the fact that I am here to write this; I did not follow through on the suicide.
Even when I got my mental issues (for the most part) under control through counseling and medication, I was faced with an equally daunting challenge. Quite honestly, I saw no way for my family and me to survive on my disability payment. I am not talking not being able to afford luxuries here, but the very basic costs of day-to-day living. Knowing my own quandary, I am amazed by the fact that so many individuals and families, in similar situations, are able to pull it together.
My solution could be viewed as radical to some, while I am sure others would find it no big deal. The point of this discussion is to at least open a dialog with others, and see if my solution might be a viable one for them as well. What I ended up doing was moving out of the United States, and to the Philippines. Even taking into consideration a varying exchange rate (for those of you who do not know, it changes daily), it was a no-brainer. The overall differences in the basic cost of living mean having a quasi-normal life here, versus every month being in a quandary as to whether or not I would be able to make it to my next check.
For some, the thought of moving out of the U.S. would be a frightening prospect. During the course of my life, and military career, I visited 49 different states (I have to make it to Vermont one day), and 28 countries. As such, the thought of another move was no big deal. I was concerned about quality of life, and one thing extensive travel has taught me is, with minor adjustment, you can find things to like about almost any location (although Thule, Greenland, might still be the exception).
Understand what a difference in quality-of-life that makes to a person who is already having mental health issues. Once I was no longer worried about making it through the month, I could look at basic issues for myself and my family. I have read figures which suggest that being at the lowest l0% in earnings in the U.S. still puts you ahead of two-thirds of the world population. Whether those figures are exactly accurate or not, they still draw the inference that Americans have it very well off compared to the remainder of the world.
If you have kids, you know the pressures they feel, but understand it makes a big difference in how they are perceived by their peers. If they realize they are considered the, rich kids, they do not worry so much about that particular brand of jeans anymore. They just know they have other kids in their class who are envious of them, which means they do not have the constant desire to beg you, as a parent, for some other item you cannot afford.
The same argument could be made for how some spouses feel. Particularly when the disability comes as a result of an accident, there is a sudden change in socio-economic positions. This can be difficult to accept; perhaps before, you were the spouse of the officer, or the senior non-commissioned officer. Your new role, with its inherent physical and mental limitations, puts you, and your partner in a new situation with new realities and challenges.
It did not work out super smoothly for me. I ended up going through separation, but I still consider it an overall success. My children understand the challenges, and they realize what was done, was done for survival. Spinal injuries do not have much appreciation for cold climates. The heat in the Philippines resulted in much lower pain levels, which in turn required lower levels of medication. Lower levels of medication allowed for a higher alertness level, which made for more active daily activities, and more enjoyment of the same.
An ancillary benefit was, the heat here resulted in much more profuse perspiration; which in turn resulted in my consuming much larger volumes of water. That simple fact resulted in better digestion and loss of a considerable amount of post-injury weight gain (at my high, I was 278 and now I am at 190). The weight loss took pressure off the neck and back injuries, and again, a reduction in pain level resulted. Again, a win-win result; both my health and my mental pressures were much more in control than they had been for years.
In my case, I wanted a place with pretty much no cold weather (I think that worked out well here); I wanted a place I could afford (my cable TV and DSL internet charges run about $18 a month); and I needed a place where the people speak English or German (English is the primary language of instruction for schools here). I had vacationed in the Philippines before coming here to live, but was never stationed here during my military years. It was only three weeks before moving here that I found out Manila hosts the only VA medical facility in the world outside the U.S. or its territories. So, in my case, this was the perfect fit.
I am not saying that, specifically, the Philippines would be the solution for you. What I am saying, however, is you need to think outside the proverbial box, and make your choices tailor-made to your specific situation. If you are sitting around (alone or with your family) thinking there is no way for you to make it on your own, then you need to push yourself to action.
You may have to go ask for help from any of a number of agencies or organizations. Despite the recent bad press (overblown in my view) about the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), I would highly suggest you contact them. Other services, such as Disabled American Veterans (DAV) have lots of folks whose sole job is to help each and every one of us disabled veterans.
If you think you have to do everything on your own, you are not using the tools available to you. You have to realize, your survival is much more complex than just surviving to your next disability payment. Not being able to venture out from your home is not a good thing. You need the interaction, and you need to feel like you have some purpose. That is still very much possible, but it takes some effort. Talk to other veterans who are in similar situations as yours, and see how they worked things out. Maybe my solution is totally off base for what you need. Solutions are not in a one size fits all basis; you need to get the one which is best for you and your situation. Get the help you need, and get your life back. You deserve it.
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