Recovery, transition and moving on…

So much has happened since my last post. I have officially retired from the United States Navy. My son has recovered from his early set-backs, and we have moved back to Pennsylvania. It’s been a whirlwind of activity, and overall has been a positive experience, in which my entire family has done a lot of growing, mentally and emotionally, if not in numbers.

My retirement from the Navy was quite a process, and an incomparable experience, which will be the subject of several future posts. But the purpose of this post isSeaman Recruit McCloskey to update everyone on my beloved son, Lucas. Who is now doing very well. He has mostly recovered from his intra-ventricular hemorrhage. We will not be completely out-of-the-woods until he is about two years old, but he has been making remarkable progress in his development, and he now appears to be completely healthy.   For this I feel we owe a great deal of gratitude to everyone who expressed concern and offered their support, and most especially to the Children’s Miracle Network, without whom his progress and well-being would not have been possible. They provided so much of the specialized equipment required for his care, that I cannot adequately express my family’s gratitude to them.

Lucas is now six months old and he is not only healthy, but is easily one of the happiest babies I have ever seen. He continues Happy Lucasto grow, progress and develop every day. Each day seems to bring a new developmental milestone, which makes this a very
exciting age both for him as well as for my wife and myself .  We have been very fortunate. In order to express our gratitude, we have made a donation to the Children’s Miracle Network, and we intend to participate in the March of Dimes walk in Philadelphia this year as well.

 
Now that we are settled into our new home, and Lucas is doing so well, I hope to be able to make more frequent updates to this site. I expect to make some very interesting updates, and I should be able to express more details about my experiences in Afghanistan now that I am no longer beholden to a military chain-of-command. It should be good.

Bad News from the NICU

We received some bad news when we went to the hospital to see our son today. The attending physician in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit informed us that a sonogram of our son’s head revealed that he had suffered a grade III intraventricular hemorrhage.  The way the doctor explained it to us was that there was some intraventricular bleeding which has since clotted, but is now forming a blockage preventing the proper flow of cerebrospinal fluid. They seemed to indicate there was no reason for immediate worry, but they are going to keep an eye on it. Lucas will now receive weekly sonograms. The hope is that his body will naturally reabsorb the clots and things will go back to normal. The doctor gave us a 50/50 chance of that happening. If the clots are not naturally reabsorbed, then the doctors will have to consider a more invasive approach.

There are a lot of potential outcomes to this situation, and right now we are simply hoping for the best, and we are not trying not to focus on the negative possibilities. But this is one more complication, and it is a very hard one to bear. The good news is that so long as there are no further complications, Lucas may still be able to leave the NICU in about 4 weeks. But in the mean time Nora and I are just trying to support each other through this rough patch. I will post more updates as they occur…

 

Everyone’s support and concern is deeply appreciated.

 

 

You can contribute to the Lucas Emergency Fund

Please feel free to comment below.

The VA’s role in the PEB Process…

This is the next in my series discussing my experiences in the military Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES). This is specifically regarding the role of the Veterans Administration.

If you are referred to a Physical Evaluation Board (PEB), your package will first be sent to D.C. for a review by your service component. In the case of the Navy / Marine Corps your package will be reviewed at the Navy Yard in Washington D.C. by two line officers, typically one Marine and one Navy, and by one medical corps officer (Navy). These are usually all paygrade o6 (Captain or Colonel).

Their findings will be reviewed by a Staff Judge Advocate to ensure their findings are within the boundaries of the established regulations. From there your package will be sent to the Veterans Administration, who will actually make a determination of disability percentages. When the package is sent from the PEB to the VA, your status on your PEBLO’s tracker will change to “Sent for review”. This can be confusing, because this is the same status that they will have when it is en route to you as well.

There are only two VA offices to handle the review of these cases for all branches of the service, which means they are swamped. One of those offices only handles Army cases, meaning all other cases (and some Army) are sent to the other office for review. When my package was finally sent to the VA for review, I was told I could expect my results in about eight weeks. That was about twenty-eight weeks ago. So the real lesson to keep in mind is that you are in for a long, stressful wait.

During this time you will remain in a LIMDU status, although your accounting code will change from 105 (LIMDU) to 355 (Awaiting PEB), which will have little meaning to you, but impacts how you can be assigned at your command. I will write more on that in a future post.

If you have questions, please feel free to ask, I don’t know all the answers, but I will try to get the answer or steer you in the right direction.

USS Comfort

Suddenly… My Son!

At 0400 on Monday the 23rd of January my wife asked me to take her to the hospital because she had the worst headache of her life. She was pregnant and the doctor had warned us about this… So I drove her to the Naval Hospital at Jacksonville Naval Air Station where she was diagnosed with severe pre-eclampsia and sent via ambulance to the University of Florida Shands Hospital, down town. It turns out that the Naval Hospital cannot deliver a baby prior to 36 weeks, and Lucas was 32 weeks and 6 days. But it was made clear to us that the only cure for my wife’s condition was to get the baby out.

She spent the rest of the day on Magnesium Sulfate to get her blood pressure down and some other supplements to help her out, and they collected 24 hours worth of urine. On Tuesday they induced labor and after 46 hours in labor my wife gave birth to our beautiful son, Lucas.

Because he was born 7 weeks premature, he had to be immediately admitted into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). My wife also wound up spending the rest of the week in the hospital. She is home now, but my son is still in the NICU. We visit him several times a day daily. We spend as much time as possible with him, but it’s been a real emotional roller coaster. He’s making good progress, but there is no indication of when they may let him come home. In the mean time I am worried sick.

He’s had his ups and downs, and has been doing well over all. Today they had to move him into isolation because he tested positive for MRSA, which scares me to death. You hear so many horror stories. So in the mean time my wife and I try to take it one day at a time, and just hope for the best. I am just not sure what else we can do. I just want him to be healthy, and to come home…

I am going to put together a page just to follow the trials of my little man-cub. I have also started an emergency fund for him which seems prudent, given the fact that he is premature, and is having so many struggles… I want to be as prepared as possible for every contingency when he comes home. If anyone would like to contribute to the fund you can do so here. I set the fund up with SmartyPig, so it is safe and easy for those who may want to help. In the mean time I will try to post updates as much as possible.

Thanks to everyone for all the support!

 

Integrated Disability Evaluation System

So once it was discovered that I was dealing with complications from wounds I sustained in Afghanistan, I was referred to a Medical Evaluation Board (MEB), which placed me on Limited Duty (LIMDU). Limited Duty basically just means I cannot deploy, I cannot work in any high-risk environments, I cannot work with weapons or explosives and I cannot be assigned to any task that may exacerbate my condition. You are assigned to a LIMDU status for a period of six months, and according to regulations you are not supposed to be assigned to more than three LIMDU periods in your career, although I know people who have done four, and I have heard of five.

For me, once it was determined that my condition was not likely to improve, I was referred to a Physical Evaluation Board (PEB). The Physical Evaluation Board is a board that convenes at the Navy Yard in Washington D.C. (for Sailors and Marines) that is tasked with determining whether or not the individual service member is fit for continued service. Currently all personnel who are referred to a PEB are entered into the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES). This system is intended to be an improvement over the old system.

Under the old system, the individual service component (Army, Navy, Marines or Air Force) would rate the service member’s disability rating in accordance with the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD). Then if the member was found unfit, the member was separated and only then did the member begin the process of getting a rating from the VA. This means the member had to go through two sets of lengthy exams, and wait an extended period of time after being discharge before they received any disability benefits.

Under the new system (IDES), the VA does all the medical screenings (usually through a contracted private medical company) and the military uses the VA’s rating for their decision. This works out well because the VA actually has more stringent medical screening anyway, meaning the member is more likely to get an accurate percentage, and it means the member will receive benefits immediately upon separation, with no delay. That is an undeniable advantage.

However, one thing has not changed… The speed of the process. It is still incredibly slow. It seems likely the process will Veterans Administrationactually only get slower, unless something is done to streamline the VA bureaucracy. Of course, under the new system, you remain on active duty with full pay and benefits while you wait, which is great. But it is hard to plan and prepare for the road ahead when you don’t know what lies ahead. When my package was sent to the VA for rating I was told to expect a result within eight weeks. That was twenty-four weeks ago. In the mean time I am waiting for the call to be told to come sign separation paperwork, and I don’t know if that call will come tomorrow or six months from now. Therein lies the source of my frustration.

All good things…

I started this blog in 2005 to document my deployment to Afghanistan. As a U.S. Navy Sailor deploying with a U.S. Army special operations unit I thought I might have some interesting tales to tell and experiences to share. I had a great time trying to keep the blog up-to-date and keep the military off my back about it. I had some good times and some bad, and even got in a bit of trouble for the blog, but over all it was well worth it, and the site has never been taken down, although it has severely dropped in popularity and readership.

The reason for the drop in readership was simple, once I came home in 2007, I had little to write about and little time to write it. So I left the blog neglected for long periods of time, not due to disinterest, but mostly due to limited time and limited subjects to discuss. But that all ends now.

You see, I once again have information to share. That is, after all, what this site is all about, shared experience. It seems, like all good things, it is time for my Naval career to come to an end. I have been on Limited Duty for over two years now receiving medical treatment for wounds I sustained while in Afghanistan. And I thought it may be useful and / or interesting for me to share my experiences with the Medical Retirement process. I can share a lot of insight on the Medical Evaluation Board (MEB), the Physical Evaluation Board (PEB), and the new Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) that the military has developed in conjunction with the Veteran’s Administration.

The process I have been going through is a long, rather daunting one. It can be confusing at times and it certainly requires a great deal of patience. I intend to share my experiences and my knowledge for those who may be curious or those who are currently going through this process themselves.

I do not intend to share personal details of my medical treatments, nor will I be able to say precisely what another person’s experience in the process may be, but I can share what my experience has been, and what I have learned.  So hopefully there is an audience who will find these new posts as interesting as an audience found my original posts from the war zone (which shall remain up). I will share my stories of not only working my way through this complex system, but also with my own transition from senior enlisted career military man, to civilian. It’s a terrifying prospect, but it should be an interesting new mission.

Military Atheists at Travis Air Force Base get their own Display

I thought this was a good holiday news story worth noting…

Senior chief used pepper spray, cuffs, stapler in abuse

NORFOLK (Courtesy of HamptonRoads.com)

Senior Chief Petty Officer Anchor U.S. NavyPepper-spraying two subordinates while they showered. Handcuffing sailors and kneeing them in a technique learned to subdue suspects. Stapling junior sailors’ skin.

Those are among the accusations made against the former head of the security department of the aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush during a preliminary hearing Friday. Senior Chief Petty Officer Kevin Curtis is charged with more than a dozen counts of abusing junior sailors and disobeying orders.

Curtis served as the senior law enforcement officer aboard the Bush from 2008 until a few months ago.

Now, his 18-year career may be in jeopardy. After the hearing concludes next week, the investigating officer overseeing the proceeding will recommend whether Curtis should be court-martialed.

Two witnesses testified Friday, one junior to Curtis and one senior. Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Edmonds, a master-at-arms and the lead investigator on the Bush, spent more than five hours describing Curtis’ treatment.

He said Curtis, his boss, routinely threw him into a set of metal lockers in the office, so much so that they curved and warped. He said Curtis used pepper spray on him and other sailors, and that Curtis regularly used an office stapler to staple into his skin, mostly on his back and upper thigh. Curtis stapled him that way more than 100 times, Edmonds testified.

“He would come into the investigations office, open it up longways, and staple me in the upper thigh,” Edmonds told the court.

The behavior lasted from mid-2009 through June, he said. The alleged mistreatment occurred aboard the ship, in the security department offices and occasionally in junior sailors’ berthing areas.

Edmonds said Curtis didn’t initially start out abusive and didn’t seem out to get him personally – in fact, he wrote two glowing recommendations for Edmonds, who won the Sailor of the Year award on the Bush in 2009.

The masters-at-arms, or internal security and law enforcement personnel, initially looked up to Curtis when he came aboard in September 2008, Edmonds testified.

“He was so squared away, he was right on,” Edmonds said, becoming emotional before regaining his composure. But as time went on, “this stuff happened. It spun out of control so fast.”

Sailors in the department recognized the problem, he said, but it appeared the ship’s top leaders had full trust in Curtis.

Asked why he didn’t report Curtis, Edmonds said he was afraid of reprisals. “I didn’t have any confidence in my chain of command, that it would be handled properly,” Edmonds said, noting that Curtis often talked about his tight relationship with the ship’s command master chief and commanding and executive officers.

“Senior Chief was the man, sir,” he said. “He was the sheriff of the ship.”

On cross-examination, Curtis’ civilian lawyer, Rick Morris, tried to get Edmonds to acknowledge that horseplay and roughhousing were standard in the department, and Curtis’ subordinates dished physical and verbal abuse right back at him.

Edmonds said yes, the sailor did sometimes play along with Curtis, and occasionally fight back. After Curtis had put him in handcuffs multiple times, Edmonds also began carrying a pair of cuffs in his waistband. One time, a group of about six sailors decided to play a trick on Curtis, holding shut an office door when he tried to enter. Curtis responded, he said, by spraying pepper spray into the room’s vents. When the group opened the door and Curtis rushed in, they tackled him. For about 10 seconds, Edmonds said, they had handcuffs on him.

“I think it started as horseplay that got taken too far,” Edmonds said.

The charges against him include one count of hazing, but Edmonds said he didn’t consider Curtis’ actions to be hazing, or some sort of initiation.

One of the scariest incidents Edmonds said he experienced was being strangled by Curtis inside his office. When Edmonds entered the room, he said, Curtis grabbed a 4 -foot-long elastic exercise band, wrapped it around his neck and pulled it tight.

“The longer he held it, the more I couldn’t breathe,” Edmonds said. His vision began getting hazy, and he couldn’t speak. Curtis stopped only when another master-at-arms shoved the senior chief into a door, Edmonds testified.

The second witness Friday was one of Curtis’ bosses on the Bush, Master Chief Petty Officer Rick Beaber.

Beaber described Curtis as something of a rebel, mentioning three times Curtis conducted off-ship investigations against explicit instructions.

In one case, he went to the home of a sailor accused of stealing tools from the ship and brought them back, Beaber said. Another time, Curtis conducted surveillance at the home of a chief suspected of fraternizing with a junior sailor.

The third instance involved an allegation of domestic violence, with Curtis leaving the ship to confront someone. That prompted an angry e-mail from the ship’s chaplain, who thought Curtis was out of line. Beaber said he agreed, and told Curtis not to conduct off-ship investigations. The ship’s operations officer issued him a letter of instruction reiterating the point.

Beaber testified that Curtis borrowed more than $1,000 from a chief in his command, a violation of regulations governing “unduly familiar” relationships between sailors of different ranks.

Some of the charges against Curtis involve shoddy paperwork and dereliction of administrative duties.

Beaber, who has been in the Navy for 29 years, described Curtis as “a horrible administrator” who often was late with paperwork. At one point, after a sailor complained about not getting leave approved despite months of notice, Beaber said he went into Curtis’ office and discovered 60 to 70 pounds of unfinished paperwork, including leave chits, qualifications certificates and even awards for sailors who’d already left the ship.

“It just sickened me,” Beaber said.

Beaber said he knew Curtis’ administrative skills were subpar and consistently reminded him to work on them. But he said he knew nothing of the alleged physical abuse.

Kate Wiltrout, (757) 446-2629, kate.wiltrout@pilotonline.com

WikiLeaks

I have been following the on going WikiLeaks saga rather closely, and it amazes me how easily Americans can miss the point, and how quick we are to feign outrage. First off, I don’t believe we should be outraged with WikiLeaks or Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. If we are going to be outraged with anyone, it should be those that actually leaked the information. Of course, since we cannot verify the actual source of all the leaks, the U.S. Military will place all the blame on on young Private First Class Bradley Manning.  The military loves scape goats.

Now don’t get me wrong, PFC Manning DID leak documents, and that is absolutely wrong, and SHOULD be punished. I do believe that Private Manning may have leaked these documents because he felt morally obliged to, but that does not make it the right course of action. In taking the actions he did, he must accept the consequences, and the consequences should be severe. But I do not believe that one PFC could be responsible for all the leaks that have occurred. The government must do everything they can to ensure the public doesn’t find out how fucked up things really are…

Though we should take harsh action against those who leaked information, in violation of their sworn duty, I do not believe we should be taking such harsh action against WikiLeaks. In the process of assaulting WikiLeaks, the U.S. Government only makes the public question what it is they are so afraid of everyone discovering. The fact of the matter is that the majority of the documents released by WikiLeaks, while classified, are boring and mostly useless situation reports. Yes some of the documents may be embarrassing, and a few may put at risk the lives of informants, but is any of this the fault of WikiLeaks? I don’t believe so. They could not publish information if it were not given to them. Julian Assange is not a U.S. citizen, he has no reason to have loyalty to us or our causes. He is a neutral mediator of information. And while his lack of concern for the best wishes of the Empire may upset us, I don’t think we are justified in trying to destroy his character and shut down his web sites.

In fact, for all the embarrassment, and all the risk associated with the leaks, I feel a fair bit of good has been done because of them. The American people are getting to see small glimpses of the truth about what is going on in our “War on Terror”. They are getting to see that the war is not all young heroic American boys marching into battle under a great red, white and blue banner for honor and glory… Nay, the reality of war, especially this war is that we are sending young boys into morally ambiguous situations, for dubious reasons, with unclear rules against an ill defined enemy and hoping they do the right thing. We send these boys through months of training teaching them to KILL! KILL! KILL! followed by a week long course in cultural sensitivity, and tell them, almost as an after thought, to remember to treat everyone humanely. There is nothing humane about war. In the process of all of this we are destroying the minds of these boys and men. They must come home to spend the rest of their lives analyzing what they have seen and done. Some lose faith in humanity, some question their own morality, some cannot bear the burden and choose to end their pain permanently. But we shuffle this all away to the 9th or 10th pages of the newspaper, if it gets reported at all.

At least two of my friends have committed suicide after my last tour in Afghanistan. I find myself questioning things everyday. It’s hard to be bothered with life’s little dilemmas when you are constantly trying to figure out whether or not you are a murderer, or a coward, or a criminal. People may call you a hero, but I sure don’t feel heroic.

WikiLeaks makes Americans uncomfortable. And I say GOOD! We should be uncomfortable. We have a massive debt, we bicker like children over whether or not we can afford healthcare to take care of our citizens, yet we manage to find money to fund our massive war machine that continues to churn away at two wars that do not seem to have a defined goal. We quibble over whether or not it is fair to ask the rich in our country to please contribute their fair share to help us overcome our massive debt, which we accrued fighting these dubious battles, and we continue to declare that we must do something about the debt, while insisting that nothing be cut, and no one pay any more taxes. We are a nation of overfed, undereducated, spoiled children, and it is about time the average citizen wake up and realize that we are not the center of the god damn universe.

Get it off your chest…

Sometimes coming home, and being home is the hardest part of war. I am beginning to think that leaving the war may be more difficult than serving in it. While you are in theatre, things tend to be pretty cut and dry, pretty black and white. You know what your mission is, you know your orders and you execute. You don’t think about the “why” of it all, or whether or not what you are doing is right or wrong, because you don’t have the time, nor the luxury to do so. You sure do think about it when you come home though.

When you come home, you will replay in your mind every significant event you experienced while you were in theatre, and a lot of insignificant ones as well. You’ll replay them over and over in your head and analyze them. You will think about your mistakes and lapses in judgement. You will think back and discover new mistakes, realizing that you could have, and should have done something differently. You will wonder about the fate of the locals with whom you interacted.

Over and over again I find myself trapped in a battle zone version of “Groundhog Day”. I frequently wish they would send me back, if only because I know it would silence this inner monologue that I dare not share with others, lest they not understand. How can you chat with a friend over coffee at Starbucks and expect them to fully comprehend the gut wrenching feeling you get every time you think about the time the .50 caliber machine gun you were manning jammed in the middle of a fire-fight and all you could think about was whether or not you’d maintenanced it correctly… Was it your fault that you and your buddies were about to die? Just because you had not used enough lubricant, or too much?

You’ll think back to other times, when you were under fire, and in the heat of returning fire, perhaps you fired on a civilian… Was that a gun they were holding or was it a broom? Did they point it at you? It all happened so quick. You’ll be having these thoughts at the same time that those around you are thanking you for your service and commending you on your bravery. Would they think you so brave if they knew how scared you were? What if they knew that in the heat of battle, your only real concern and motivation in the moment is survival?

You will stand in ceremonies, and receive awards and accolades and you’ll salute bright flags as marching bands pass in a fourth of July parade full of emotions and feelings you cannot put into words. Not pride… but the feeling that you’re not where you belong. A tinge of guilt that while you stand here, back home in the states, one of your brothers-in-arms is getting his ass handed to him in the sand. You’ll hear your “superiors” drone on about how important such-and-such a report is, and how the command is switching to the new “e-leave” system, and you have to attend the training… By the way, did you go to that Equal Opportunity training? These are the things they think are important back home, working in garrison, in an office. These are the new priorities and it is maddening. You may begin to stop caring altogether. Things begin to feel pointless. Is this really it?  The nice part of battle, and war is that it eventually ends, and you know it will. The hard part of peace, and returning to the real world, is that it doesn’t. You have to adjust. You have to talk to someone, find an outlet and get it off your chest, or you will be consumed by the demons.

Not a day goes by that I don’t spend far too much time either over-analyzing my actions in theatre, or simply replaying them in my mind. Real life seems like a distraction. How am I supposed to get upset because some young sailor didn’t crease his uniform properly when I have “real issues” on my mind? I get sick and disgusted with those around me… They describe mundane things as “important” or as an “emergency” and I want to spit at them… They don’t know the meaning of an emergency. There are a lot of self-important people in uniform who have never spent a day on the ground in a war zone, who think they know what is important. It is my contention that they wouldn’t know their ass from a hole in the ground. Everyday I feel sick to my stomach knowing that the day will be filled with this mundane drudgery, which I must try to pretend concerns me at least a little…

A friend of mine with whom I served in Afghanistan e-mailed me the photo below. I don’t know who that soldier is, but when I saw the photo, I couldn’t help but think “right-on”. The image sums up many of my own feelings. How can one come to terms with unclear memories of such tumultuous, vague and uncertain situations?

All I know is that I did my best and I tried always to do the right thing. But I fear I will never escape the perpetual replaying of these situations in my head… I fear I’ll never come to peace with everything I’ve seen and done. And perhaps I shouldn’t… but I do know, sometimes you’ve got to get it off your chest.

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About Army Sailor

ArmySailor.com was originally started during my deployment to Afghanistan from 2005-2007, I documented my experiences in training and through combat. I now use it to chronicle my ongoing military career, and relevant news and events in my life and around the military. This is NOT an official Department of Defense website! The opinions contained herein are solely those of the author.