Struggle of Being Married to Someone Who is a Disabled Veteran-Part One
Grande Mal Seizure
Dennis and I got married in February of 1986, in Reno, NV. I had been raised in Sparks, the town adjoining Reno. I was working in a 7-11 store and he did contract investigation work for the government. Eight days after we got married, we went to the grocery store. He wasn't feeling well, so he was going to sit up at the slot machines and play a little, while I did the shopping. I did the shopping, paid, and looked around for Dennis.
I noticed all these people running over to the slot machines and saw my new husband lying on the floor. They paged for medical personnel in the store to please come up there and called an ambulance. A Dr. from the VA was there and a nurse. The Dr. pegged it right off. Dennis was having a Grande Mal seizure. As far as I knew, he had never had one before. They rushed him to the hospital and I called my mom and dad. They lived just a couple miles down the road.
They came down and got me. I was in no shape to drive. My mom took the groceries to their house and put the cold things away while my dad drove me to the hospital. My mom then came up there. We waited and waited. They decided, regardless of what the VA Dr. who was there said, that Dennis was overweight, he had a heart attack. Then they transferred him to the VA. Contract work does not have insurance benefits and they were worried about the bill. The VA did not change the diagnosis. They had him in Cardiac Intensive Care. They ran some tests and served dinner.
They ran out of turkey so they gave him extra mashed potatoes instead. One thing I knew about Dennis even then, he HATES mashed potatoes. When he was growing up, his mother had served mashed potatoes, in one form or another, at every single meal. He hated them. And that is all they gave my husband to eat. With a spoonful of corn. He ate the corn.
They found a heart murmur, it skipped every 12th beat. Otherwise, he was healthy. They didn't know why he had passed out in the store, even after the Dr. who had been there, came up and told them that she had seen it and that it was a Grande Mal seizure. They did not change their minds. He had a heart attack. They told him that he could never work again.
He got fed up with being in there and knowing that they were mis-diagnosing him. He decided to leave. He did not tell them that he was leaving. He hooked the heart sensors to the TV and went out the fire escape. This continued the readings that they were getting at the nurse's station for about half an hour. IV's and all, he went to McDonalds, two blocks from the VA. He ran into a friend there and then went home on the bus.
I was at work and the friend came in and told me that he had seen Dennis. I assumed he meant at the VA and asked how he was handling the VA. He told me that he was at home. I thought they had discharged him and was told no, he had taken the bus home. We did not have a phone, so I called my dad. He was talking to Dennis on the CB.
The next morning, my husband called the VA, said he was his brother and asked how he was doing. He was told that he had died and they had mis-placed the body. He went down and showed the Head Administrator where the "body" was. They walked through there, with Dennis pointing out everyone who had been there the night before and watching while they were fired.
His Injuries and Welfare
He had had several head injuries while in service in the Army. Once, he had shrapnel hit him in the face, destroying his nose and leaving nothing but a flap of skin hanging. That day, he got three Purple Hearts. When they were evacuating him by helicopter, they had him in the stretcher basket, raising him up to the helicopter. He got shot in the buttocks. A Forrest Gump injury. He did not show it to the President though. Then, when they got him in the helicopter on the way out of there, the helicopter got shot down. It broke his ankle, giving him three injuries in three separate actions, in one day. As he has said, that was a very bad day.
Another time, when he was being flown someplace to parachute in, he stood up just as the plane hit a bump and banged his head on a bomb that was also being transported. It knocked him out. This would be a bad enough injury to cause seizures. The only injury that they have ever looked at was when he was a kid, he got hit by a car and had mild seizures for a few months. He will never get the seizures Service connected because of that.
Dennis went in and filed for disability from the VA and watched while the paperwork that he filled out was thrown away. He was told that he did not qualify. They are not supposed to do that. The paperwork has to go to a board, which reviews them and then makes a decision. Then, that decision can be appealed. If the decision is ever reversed, the payment goes retro-active to the first application. This effectively cut the payment that was finally made to us.
This started our 17 year struggle to get his disability for him. Can you imagine the payment which he would have gotten if it went back to the first application.
During that time, I supported us as well as I could but occasionally, I had to take time because I had a baby. Or I could not find a job. I did temp work in between jobs but those are never sure things. You can work for a place for one day, one week or even one year and go in the next day and the funding for your job is not approved. I did not have a degree, so that did not help.
We ended up on food stamps most of the time and sometimes we ended up on welfare. We got told once that if we got divorced, we could get welfare, but if we were married, we could not. Talk about undermining the sanctity of marriage and encouraging people to just live together.
We applied for Social Security disability, but he was told that he had not been out of work long enough. With his PTSD, that ticked him off and it took me a long time to get him to re-apply. We had been married for eleven years when we moved back to AZ and they made him re-apply. It took only seven months to get it. We are told, that is a record.
Arizona Helped Us Get Money
When we moved back to Arizona, we lived in a campground in a little camp trailer with a tent for the boys. The first campground was just outside Needles, California. We stayed there until their time limit was up. I believe it was 5 months. Then we moved to one over by Parker, Arizona. When we moved there, I was very sick. We got signed up for welfare as well as the food stamps we had been getting. We also got health insurance through them. We all went to the Doctor for various things.
They required that Dennis re-apply for Social Security disability and VA benefits. They put us in contact with a lady who was paid by the State to help Veterans get their benefits. She filled out all of the paperwork for both and we waited. Then she filled out more and we waited. Finally, Social Security sent him to all these specialists. This was the rating part. Within seven months, Dennis was approved for disability. Good, but still not enough money.
Then, the VA sent him a letter stating that to help the Veterans who had non-service connected disabilities, they had a program. It paid $300 more a month than Social Security did, but we could not have both. We took the VA program. We finally had enough to live on. I still needed to work but we could get by. The food stamps continued and we got to keep the health care. Thankfully, because I was sick now.
I kept going back to the Dr., saying that there was something wrong and the Dr would check me and say I had a sinus infection or an upper respiratory infection. The antibiotics that he gave me didn't really help. I still felt like I had no energy and was so nervous that I couldn't sit still. I was dropping weight to a scary point, 40 lbs. in just six weeks. My eyes were starting to look like bug eyes and my husband and kids kept teasing me about this. I would also start crying at the drop of a hat or totally lose my temper for no reason.
One night, while I was cooking dinner, 1 1/2 year old Katy reached up and grabbed the handle of the frying pan. She pulled it off the stove and splashed hamburger and grease all along her arm and got both hands. We called an ambulance because our van had quit running. They took her to the hospital and I went with her. They checked her and applied medication to cool the burn and were waiting for the medicine to work so they could start the next step. They were mostly second degree burns because I had immediately poured cool water over the grease and cooled it off. Thank God, they were not worse. I was sitting on the bed with Katy, cuddling without hurting. We were both very upset.
The Dr. and the nurse were sitting at a little table over against the wall. They were talking and working on charts. The nurse kept glancing over and looking at me, not Katy. Then she would ask him a question or make a comment. When the Dr. came back over, I asked him if there was a problem. He said that she was asking about my eyes. I asked him, what about my eyes. I said that I had been to the Dr. because I did not feel right but he never found anything. The Dr looked at me and told me to have the Dr. check my thyroid. Yeah, a clue. He couldn't say more because I was not his patient, but he gave me a clue to work on.
The following day, I called the Dr. to get Katy in to be checked, and made an appointment for me also. He probably thought, 'The hypochondriac again'. We went in and he checked Katy's burns. They were doing good, he wrote a prescription for more antibiotics for her and for some burn cream. He told me that as they healed, I would have to soak them and debride them. He also told me how to do this. Yech!!! I never had to do this, my husband already knew how and was much less squeamish than I am.
Then, he asked me what I was in for. I told him that the Dr. in the ER had told me I should get my thyroid checked. The Dr. looked at me and I could see it click. All the things that I had been telling him for months finally came together and made sense. He had just not bothered to think about them together and connected the dots.
They did the blood test right then and the results were that I had a hyper-active thyroid. My thyroid was producing way too much of the hormone and it was going to kill me if they did not get it under control in a hurry. My heart rate was way too fast also. That is one of the symptoms. It was causing fat cells to build up behind my eyes, which pushed the eyeball out and caused the bug-eyed look. This will eventually cause you to lose your vision. My worst terror. Too much hormone causes your emotions to be out of control and causes weight loss. It also sent me into peri-menopause about 10 years too early.
Will continue with Part Two...
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