11 January 2014

What don't kill you makes you stronger....

From the Cop side:  and the Soldier side: In recent months I've been hearing about a lot of OIE/ OEF vets who are Enduring problems with pain or stress from the wars.  The things I learned as a cop helped me in dealing with my own deployments….although the gang I deployed with to Bosnia and Iraq all admit that we were changed by those experiences.  I hope the change made us better and stronger. 
A nice Marine working dog at Camp Gannon, IZ 2005

Some of my cop training taught me that when you are involved in a critical incident, to talk about it afterwards as soon as possible---with the others who were in it with you. Laugh, cry, do your AAR (After Action Review) and whatever, but talk about it…and if needed, hug each other.  (Man hugs are OK)
When a Soldier is wounded and everybody can see the wound, most will show compassion and concern.  A visible wound is something most folks can understand.  A non-visible wound of the mind is something many people seem to have a hard time understanding. 

“well, it’s all in your head, just act right and get over it.” 

When I hear a person who’s never been through something so stressful say something like that, it makes me want to stop and help educate that person.  Some people are born with a mental problem; some gain the problem from a traumatic event or events. 

Either way it is NOT THEIR FAULT!

                                                                                        B17 Flying Fortress!

I just read an article about WWII B-17 Bomber crews flying over Germany.  Everyday they had to fly over anti-aircraft fire (think of purposely walking through bombs exploding all around you while you are trying to deliver your own bombs to a precise point on the ground.)  That took a lot of guts to go out over and over.  But the comments the survivors had were “I just kept thinking I was going to be OK.”

Well, I know our teams who went out in Baghdad 6 or 7 days a week.  They’d drive in a 3 Humvee convoy for about an hour or more across the most dangerous place in the world at that time.  They’d take care of business, then turn around and drive back.  The IEDs at that time were easily cutting through the armor on the M1114 Humvees like a hot knife through butter.  If your vehicle got hit with a certain type of  IED, you were pretty much dead or wounded badly. 

Every time we went out, there was gun fire.  Some of it was just random shit, some of it was directed towards somebody else, and some of it was directed at our teams.  (I was only shot at once by some asshole with an AK who couldn’t aim and mortared a dozen times.)

Stressful?  Hell yes. How did I feel?  I wasn’t going to show my Soldiers any fear.  But I had never done anything scarier in my life (32 years of police work)… but I have to admit, I thought it was cool.  I was proud to go out with those teams.  Most of my teams went out a hell of a lot more than I did. 
We were there a year, so if they went out 6 days a week for 11 months….do the math. 

Maybe it wasn’t as bad as the WWII bomber crews.. . I mean they got shot at every time they flew.  But I think that the attitudes and bravery were about the same.  When I took over as the NCOIC (Non Commissioned Officer in Charge) of the teams, I only had one person request to not go out anymore.  That request was answered by half a dozen other Soldiers volunteering to go out.  Great troops! 

As tough as our jobs seemed, there were others who had jobs a lot tougher.  I have a friend who is a Combat Engineer.  He did Route Clearance in Afghanistan.  This required them to go out on the roads that the other troops were driving on and clear all the bombs the asshole insurgents planted every day.  Just think of the stress of looking for hidden explosives that the person hiding got better and better at hiding.  Then, when you found it, trying to disarm it.  That takes nerves of steel and skills many people will never have. 
Or my young friend who deployed at 19 years of age.  He went through more stuff in his first month than I have in my entire life…. Including having his Humvee blown out from under him and seeing his driver and team leader die.

There are lots of them out there, but only about 2% of Americans have served in recent wars.  Not all of them are stressed out…but just breathing the air in a war zone will change you forever. 
 For the Vets who are having some problems, don’t give up.  (Hell, just driving to and from my job makes me wish I had a .50 cal gunner on my truck to clear the bad drivers out of the way).  Some injuries take time to heal.  This includes physical and non-physical injuries.  When I first got home from Iraq, it took a year to figure out how to go to the VA for medical treatment.  (I stayed in my National Guard unit, so I asked them what I needed to do…and they didn’t know.)  I have since found out faster ways for others to get into the VA—just ask VA.
Many Vets are having problems with drugs they were prescribed.  Some problems related to addiction, some because of the side effects, and some because the drugs are simply not doing much good.
One of the many things I did as a cop was drug prescription forgery investigations.  I had half a dozen new cases every week from the small city I worked in.  Almost all of them started out about the same.  A patient was issued a prescription for some really strong stuff to take care of pain—usually from an injury or surgery.
What I found out from talking to good doctors and pharmacist was most of the really strong pain drugs SHOULD NOT be taken for a long period of time- a person will get addicted to them.  Some get addicted easier than others.  So, when the real prescription for the drug ran out, the patient would do things to keep getting them. 
As a cop my goal was to determine if they were addicted to the drugs or if they were selling them.  If they were selling them, I’d get a criminal complaint.  If they were addicted, I’d try to lead them down the path of getting help.  Some cops didn’t care and just filed complaints on them all and let God and the courts sort it out.

So, anytime I got hurt, I’d ask the doctor if there was something for the pain that was not addictive.  Or, I’d throw half of what they gave me away.  I did not want to get addicted. 

So, now, I hear so many stories from groups I’m associated with about Vets with problems.  Many were physically injured and often but not always, they suffer PTS (No “D).   A buddy of mine who did the same two deployments I was on, got wounded and sent home from Iraq early.  He had really big balls to do what he did in Iraq.  I made sure he knew how I felt as soon as I saw him when the rest of us got home.  He still has pain from his wound, but doesn’t let that stop him from doing stuff. 

My feeling is many doctors don’t try to heal a patients, but try to “manage the pain” for them.  I think many doctors must think most people are too weak to handle the pain, so the prescribe things that not only handle to pain, but cause major side effects. 

I’m not a doctor, but whenever a doctor decides to prescribe something for me, the first thing I ask: “Is this stuff something I can get addicted to and what are the side effects?”  If I don’t like the answer, I’ll tell the doctor to pull something else out of their magic bag. 

Pain?  Yep, I’ve some sort of pain for many years.  When I feel it, it reminds me that I’m alive and what I was doing when I got the injury that’s causing that pain of the day.  Some were from police work, some were from doing Army stuff….and most were because I wasn’t smart enough to think I could get hurt or at the time the need to do what I was doing was important (like responding to crimes in progress.) 

About 25 years ago a doctor told me I would have to get out of police work because of a back injury.  I didn’t listen because I liked being a cop and was too young to retire.  Some think that’s being tough, nope….it’s being stubborn.  I never gave up, and I never will.   All things will heal, some take more time.