Like many of you, I married into the military with dreams of a glamorous life. I watched TV and knew exactly how my story would unfold. I would get to admire my playful, bad-boy every morning while he put on his dress blues and went to work to save the world. Everyday he would come home, talk about his day, play with the kids and be my very own personal jungle gym.
The world had a real hero and everyday he would come home to me!
My first birthday ball in 2004 was magical. After dinner, we received the best gift ever, our orders to Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia! On that special night, not only did we FINALLY receive our orders but we also were told that we would be the first people to move into brand new base housing. I felt like a princess getting my very own two story, three bedroom castle.
Military life with Captain Charles Clark III was glamorous. Our neighbors were fantastic. The exchange and the commissary were filled with anything you could dream of and it was cheaper than out in the "real world." The O-Club became a routine place to meet after church on Sunday. The base pool that was so big it even had a slide for grown-ups! I joined every organization I could: L.I.N.K.S., Women of the Chapel, International Officers Wives Club, the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society and the School Board. If an organization needed people, I was there.
Military life was everything I had hoped for and more!
In 2005, Charlie volunteered to lead a team of 17 Infantry Marines who were Combat Advisors for the Afghan National Army. I was excited to support him and serve my country. I knew he needed to be with his Marine brothers. Besides, if any wife was prepared for a deployment, it was me. As an extra special bonus, three days before Charlie deployed, I found out I was pregnant! Life was so exciting! What did I have to worry about? How long is seven months really? Charlie would be home before our child was born. He could rub my feet, get me pickles and ice cream and tell me how beautiful I was. With a Semper Gumby (always flexible) attitude, I had this!
Little did I know when he left on April 30, 2005, our lives would never be the same.
For the next 3 years, my husband would deploy multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan. The day before he left for his first deployment in 2005, I had a devastating miscarriage. During his final deployment in 2008, I gave birth to our fourth child, Molly, while he watched from a Quonset Hut in Iraq. With each deployment, I saw less of my husband return. Even though he was starting to exhibit signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), I blamed it on the increasing alcohol abuse. PTSD wasn't a term that was discussed in L.I.N.K.S., never discussed with his Command and to be honest, wasn't even in my vocabulary. By 2012, his drinking had gotten so out of control that the kids and I moved out. Even though we had gotten back together, he was still trying to deal with his demons...alone. In March 2014, my mother had a massive heart attack in Charlie's arms. By February 2016, my husband had gone from a very successful Marine Corps Infantry Officer to an unemployed, shadow of the rock-star I had married.
The Marine Corps had broken my husband and they needed to fix him!
After seeing multiple private (civilian) mental health providers, on May 15th, 2016, I made the most difficult decision of my life. I took my husband to the emergency room at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Richmond, VA. Charlie had reached a point where he was looking to fight and kill someone..anyone just for the adrenaline rush. He couldn't go to a restaurant, attend my daughter's soccer game or even go to the grocery store without violently confronting someone. Civilian doctors wouldn't help my husband and now I was depending on the VA to save my husband's life.
With "Semper Gumby" tenacity, I fought to get my hero the care and recognition he deserved!
My fight with the Veteran's Administration had begun. The VA hospital refused to admit him because his PTSD had not been officially labeled as "service connected." After spending a week trying to get in touch with a VA Representative, I was directed to see the base chaplain for MCB Quantico. CMDR Buford send me on a journey that saved my husband's life. I will go into more detail later in a blog.
I am proud to say that as of August 1st, 2016 (yes, just three months later), my husband has been recognized by our government as a war hero. The Veterans Administration (VA) recognized his PTSD with a rating of 70% and an Individual Unemployment rating of 100%. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has fully recognized his disability and we are now receiving financial compensation that helps our family. Even more important than the financial support, is the recognition by the United States Government that the journey that he has ahead of him is not without top-down support.
I created this site because I know there are other spouses and family members out there just like me. Some of you may have already received a positive rating from the VA and the SSA. While others may be struggling just to get someone to listen to you. The point is that we are not alone. My journey is no where near complete. However, we have each other.
We are military caregivers. We are as tough as nails and as tenacious as bull dogs!