HIDDEN DISABILITIES

We’ve talked about them before: hidden disabilities.  They are the disabilities that people can’t readily see, so they assume you aren’t disabled.  Things like traumatic brain injury (TBI), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, the effects of Agent Orange, diabetes, cancer, etc.  Somewhere between 65 and 80% of all disabilities are hidden.

You may say “why should someone with PTSD be treated any differently since it’s not a physical disability?”  Because she may need to sit at the edge of the room by the door just to attend her daughter’s recital.  He may need to take the chair so his back is to the wall just in order to take his wife out for dinner.  It may take longer to figure out what the tip should be because his or her brain can’t process figures as fast anymore.

The bad thing is that people judge us and think because they can’t see our disabilities, they don’t exist.  It can be very frustrating to have someone make a snide comment because you are parked in a parking space for the disabled or you use the “handicapped stall” at the local public restroom, and you don’t limp or show some outward sign of having a disability.  People with disabilities aren’t looking for “special” treatment; we’re just trying to get by like everyone esle.   It’s difficult enough getting through each day with a disability without having to convince the unbelieving that you have a legitimate need to use the bathroom with the handrails.

Let’s show a little mercy and recognize that there are many disabilities that people can have, and just because we can’t see them, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist.  Let’s not judge or make anyone talk about what their disability is until when and if they’re ready to make it known.  It can be difficult enough coping with the trials that face each day.  Let’s be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

NEVER STOP LEARNING

One of the things I find most delightful are the times in my life when I am learning something new.  I love to hear about the history of places where I’m traveling, or begin learning about a new skill or hobby.  I guess the pull is being mentally engaged in something new.  I’ve seen too many people quit their jobs and with no plan for what comes next, they grow old right before your eyes.

As a veteran, you may have access to programs that can help pay for your tuition.  There are three types of federal aid: grants, work-study, and student loans.  Federal student aid is need-based, and to find out if you’re eligible, you’ll need to pick up the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.  The VA’s education and training benefits are provided through the Post-911 GI Bill, the Montgomery GI Bill and Survivors and Dependents’ Assistance.  The Post-911 GI Bill offers benefits for service members and veterans attending educational and training programs taken at accredited colleges.  Those benefits include:

  • Up to 100% tuition and fee coverage
  • A monthly living stipend
  • Up to $1,000 per year for Books and Supplies
  • A one-time relocation allowance
  • The option to transfer benefits to family members
  • Other benefits

In addition, you may find you qualify for a scholarship from a military professional organization and veterans’ service organizations.  Some are needs based while others are awarded based on merit.

Whether you want to go back to school or just learn at your own speed about specific things you’re interested in, don’t ever stop learning.  Challenge your mind…you’ll stay younger for it!

INDEPENDENT LIVING

As a veteran, you know the value of independence. Americans are innately an independent people; we thrive on making decisions for ourselves and calling our own shots. What does independence mean to you on a daily basis though? What does it mean as far as your ability to take care of yourself and live without having others make basic decisions for you?

Being free to choose what to do and when to do it is a part of our heritage, but we may lose that basic freedom it if we become too ill to care for ourselves. As an Independent Living Specialist, it’s my job to seek out ways to help veterans stay independent in their daily lives. That may involve identifying those things that limit independence, or suggesting alternative behaviors that promote independence. Sometimes that can make me rather unpopular! But that’s ok so long as the veteran has all the information needed to make an informed decision.

If a particular course of action is going to cause trouble, it’s not my job to discourage it. It is my job though to point out the ways it might be harmful. I may also offer alternatives if I can see any. It kind of makes me sound like a nosy old busybody, but I like to think of it more as a trusted advisor or a coach. Ultimately, it’s not my decision and I’ll support whatever choice is made. I don’t always make the best decisions either, and I want the right to make mistakes too. After all, that’s how we learn!

WHY MAKE THE EFFORT?

I know sometimes it’s easier to just put up with your PTSD rather than make the effort to overcome it. After all, some of the symptoms, such as lack of trust and unwanted memories, make it hard to fight back. It may seem like you can’t win when you don’t have control over what’s happening. Why even make the effort to heal? To your family, this may not seem like a difficult question to answer; they are living the nightmare right along with you.

Having PTSD doesn’t mean you live in a void and you’re the only one affected by it. Those you love most are right in the trenches with you. Again, I have to wonder why is it we hurt those who are closest to us the most? There are so many answers: it’s easiest, they owe it to us, they are there, etc. But is this what you really want? Can you look back to why you chose that particular person to be your spouse in the first place, to where you remember the desire to make the relationship permanent? Do you want to recover those times? Well, in order to do that, you’re going to have to face the devil. You’re going to have to begin to deal with your PTSD.

And just how is that accomplished? It starts by finding a safe place where you can allow yourself to remember the very things you want most to forget. Only then will you be able to let go enough to move on. It’s not easy. It won’t be an overnight fix. But it is possible to do.

Take a chance today by going to one of the VA’s PTSD classes. Or, talk to a trusted friend about your experiences. Look into alternative therapies, new medications to treat PTSD, anything to make that first step. As the old saying goes, “The only way out is through.” Yes, it’s a trip that will take time…isn’t it about time you got started? Bon Voyage!