"Freedom and responsibility we speak of easily, nearly always without recognition of the iron courage required to make them effective in our lives." j. glenn gray

Friday, October 1, 2010

Hope Springs Eternal

Well, been absent a while. Out fighting my demons again. Let's bring this puppy up to speed...

Hmmm, where to start? Where to start??? OK, how's this: It's now been ~7 months and nobody, not a soul, from BABA has made any attempt to contact the Bensons... period. No phone call. No email. No text. No snail mail. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Not a peep. Kinda weird for an organization that indicated their "high level of concern" for the Benson's well-being and that they stated they were still going to provide the Benson's with a home. Especially weird when you consider that Dan Walrath was picked by CNN to be one of their Top 10 "Heroes". Harumph! Some kind of hero. The shit hits the fan and he immediately throws his Troops under the bus, takes the money and hauls ass in a different direction. As long as there is greed there will always be a need for our men & women in uniform.

As for me, well, I rode WWP SoldierRide Texas again in March. This year we road North from San Antonio to Dallas/Ft. Worth. It rained & was cold again in San Antone but by the time we got to Temple/Ft. Hood it was warm and sunny. The Spring wind whipped us a bit but everybody carried on and all had a good experience. Along with a bunch of great OEF/OIF Troopers, I got to meet a man from our Sponsor, Boston Scientific, named Sam Holiday (picture below is of Sam and I & taken during SoldierRide California in May). Great guy and an awesome cyclist. His story in itself should be in a book of what America is all about. I found out from Sam that Boston Scientific makes a spinal cord stimulator that may be able to reduce and/or relieve my chronic leg and low back pain.

I went back to Houston and set an appoint with my primecare doctor at VAMC DeBakey in order to ascertain whether or not we could use the spinal cord stimulator approach to treat my 100% Service-Connected chronic pain issue. The doctor flat out told me that the VA would NOT approve such an expensive procedure and when I asked him for a referral to Pain Management so they could tell me such, he refused. Additionally, even after having told him point blank that I no longer wanted to take a bunch of pills and that they were having a negative impact upon my health and my quality of life... he wrote me 5 new prescriptions and told me they would be ready in the pharmacy when I left! Wow! I subsequently contacted Sam and my wife contacted the VA. Sam hooked me up with his team here in Houston who immediately went to bat for me by calling the VA directly and appraising the right people of my situation. Theresa had the VA change my primecare doctor to a more professional and learned individual whom I then had an appointment with some time later.

So, while we're waiting on this to happen...

I went and road SoldierRide California from Los Angeles to San Diego in May. No wonder there are so many fricken people in Southern California... it is absolutely gorgeous! I loved it! The weather. The people. The scenery. Everything. I even got to go to Sea World and watch the Orca show. That was kind of weird sitting there watching the show while thinking of Dawn Brancheau and Tilikum. It was a great show though and afterward I got to meet the trainers and talk a bit. I learned a bunch and really enjoyed the experience. I also got to meet and speak with an CMH Recipient, a Tuskeegee Airman, Cpt Dan Schindler from RAAM Team 4 Mil, a few celebrities, the Iceman Chuck Lidell and Rick Allen (the drummer for Def Leopard). I even gave Rick Allen my SoldierRide jersey right off my back! That was a switch and, you know, I think he actually really appreciated it. Great guy. Very well grounded. DB Sweeney was a cool character too... just a regular guy. Very cool. Also in Cali I again hooked up with a bunch of really, really great American Troopers whom CNN should be more interested in putting before the public as Heroes than the aforementioned what's-his-name. I also got to ride with Sam again and some of his folks from Boston Scientific, including a fella by the name of Mike Roman who just happens to be the World Land Speed Record Holder. Ah, what a character Mike is. Great, great individual whom I feel honored to have met and ridden with. His story too is one of how to overcome tragedy and not only be active and engaging in life but to totally excel at whatever you choose to do with it. His is a great story of overcoming adversity and becoming more than you ever thought you could. OK, that's kind of redundant but, I really can't say enough good stuff about Mike. You can learn more about Mike here: (Sorry about the pics, but Mike moves around so fast it's hard to get a good picture unless you have a high-speed camera! LOL!)

After CA SoldierRide, Summer came on fast here in Houston. The quicksilver shot up along with our 3rd Coast humidity and, for some weird reason, it hit me really hard this year. I couldn't manage riding my 27-mile "around-the-block" ride let alone any cross-country events. My stamina went through the floor and my attitude followed. After a few weeks of this I stopped and really listened to what my body was trying to tell me. I figured out that I was simply poisoning myself with the long-term use of prescription medications. I had become sensitive to sunlight burning easily along with becoming dizzy and faint if out in it too long. I had no muscle strength or endurance. I felt nauseous constantly and had no desire to be social in any way, which is really weird because I am a very social individual. In fact, my wife says I've never met a stranger. It was a weird feeling and one that I was not used to and didn't care for at all. I changed up a few things & scaled back on the Rx until the withdrawal symptoms turned me into a real asshole and then let it level out. I spent my days playing mad xbox Battlefield Bad Co. 2 in order to give my mind something to concentrate on while my body went through the sweats and shakes and tremors. I'm now taking only one Rx instead of seven and hopefully, if this spinal cord stimulator works out, will be able to get off of that one too. I've lost 10lbs and feel just so much better that it amazes me. I feel stronger, more driven and with a desire to engage life again rather than avoid it. Meeting and riding with all of the Troops on SoldierRide as well as Sam Holiday and Mike Roman and, along with having friends like Scotty and the Bensons and a wonderful and supportive wife gave me a considerable pool of strength and inspiration from which to draw. I don't think I could have done it without you guys. Thank you all.

So that is how my Summer of `10 went. Oh, yeah. I don't want to leave y'all hanging out there so this is how my VA experience has gone thus far... This new doctor just happened to be the one I had some 2 years previously and is the head of the primecare staff at DeBakey. Well, he listened to me, reviewed my file and discussed the situation at depth with Theresa and I. He readily accepted that my situation was not something he could treat in general medicine, that prescription medications were NOT going to resolve the issue and that I should have a direct route to Pain Mgt without having to go through primecare for a referral every time I needed something regarding this injury. He personally called upstairs to Pain Mgt to request and appointment right there on the spot (of course he couldn't get anybody to answer the phone so he ended up having to send an electronic request but, he tried and that says a lot). He also took the initiative to schedule me for a CT Myelogram so that the Pain Mgt folks would have up-to-date films to use to assess the situation (this too was an epic fail as the office called to schedule the appointment a week later and left me a message when I didn't answer; I then called 6 times over 3 weeks to schedule this appointment leaving a message on 5 occassions and nobody called me back until 2 days before my appointment with Pain Mgt thus scheduling the CT Myelogram for 2 weeks after my appointment. Typical VA. Shouldn't surprise you.)

Yesterday I got to see Pain Mgt. The meeting went well in my opinion. It is totally amazing the level and/or quality of service one receives at the VA once you get past the base level of care. I think there is gross disparity in how an individual is treated from primecare to specific care at this VA facility. Anyway, the meeting began with the doctor telling me how he had been made aware of my situation sometime back via my friends at Boston Scientific... Thanks Guys! He listened to me and we went on to discuss my situation in depth, including starting from the initial injury to be sure he had a good understanding of my situation and from where I am coming. It took nearly 4 hours to get through the whole thing but, Theresa said it's the first time she had ever seen me leave the VA without being totally pissed off and fuming. The doctor even went so far as to recognize that new technology and methods in MRI would allow him to see what's going on in my spinal column even with the hardware. He said that the invasive and painful CT Myelogram would not be necessary and therefore I don't have to go through with it. So we changed from the myelogram to the mri and away I go... Once he gets the films from the mri he will review them and we will decide whether to try epidural steroid injections or spinal cord stimulation; however, given the extent of structural damage and subsequent fusion, the age of the injury & the symptoms I am experiencing chances are that we'll go straight to the spinal cord stimulator. The doctor feels that I am an excellent candidate for said stimulator and thinks that we should have very good and beneficial results. In that I am very happy. Perhaps that is why I was not fuming on my way out the door as my level of hope began to rise again after years and years of suffering chronic pain. We shall see...

For now I'm going to "put on my sailing shoes" and go for a ride around the block...

Ride On!

Oh, BTW... keep your fingers crossed for us. The WWP has recently given the "go ahead" for the WWP Cycling Team, however, they are still kicking around a budget and how best to go forward with this project. As one of the Team riders I am very excited about this opportunity and what it will mean to have a chance to reach out to other wounded Veterans with an interest in cycling. If I can help them succeed then I have succeeded.

...and for those who don't know, just click on the title for each of my blog entries to listen in on the song that is running through my head as I create these entries.

Hope you like my pics...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Veterans Beware; The Story of BABA & The Benson's

I am writing this to let everybody know what just happened to my dear friends Jessica & Latseen Benson. It would be a travesty that such aberrant behavior would go on unnoticed. I hope Jessica & Latseen don't mind that I tell y'all their story but, knowing them I'm certain they would appreciate it if just to let other Veterans know to beware of those who approach them with promises of large gifts.

Sgt Latseen Benson was hit by an IED on 13NOV2005 while on foot patrol with the Pukin' Buzzards near Mosul, Iraq. The blast tore off his left leg below the knee and his right leg nearly to his hip. Latseen lost his legs that day as well as part of who he was before the war. They stabilized him in the field and sent him to Germany for repairs after which he was sent to Walter Reed in DC... and we all know what was going on at Reed right about that time. Given the environment and his pure sense of determination and drive to be independent, Latseen pushed hard to recover and convinced his doctors to let him go home after only 8 short months.

During this entire time Jessica never left his side. She provided him with love and encouragement, kind words and a kick in the ass when he needed it. She chased off the paperwork gremlins and kept Latseen focused on the task of rehabilitation. She made sure that everything stayed on track and never once complained about herself. Jessica remains at Latseen's side because she loves him. They are good together. They will always be stronger together than either one of them individually.

In 2008 the Benson's were approached by Bay Area Builders Association (BABA) in Houston, Texas, a 501C3 organization benefiting U.S. War Wounded Veterans, with opportunities like fishing trips (such as the one I wrote about here back in October 2009) with the overall grand promise of a brand-new, custom-built ADA home free of charge. The Benson's worked with BABA at events such as the Pasadena Rodeo selling items & raffle tickets to raise money for BABA. They worked tirelessly and never complained to me about the long hours. They only spoke of how much fun they had just being together.

In December of 2009 BABA, in conjunction with a local country radio station, held a concert in Houston at which they announced to the world that Jessica and Latseen had been selected by BABA to receive that afore mentioned home. Though they were working towards that end and hoping for it, it was a surprise to the Benson's and it really showed on the pictures from the event (Latseen never smiles). BABA posted this along with pictures on their website. Latseen was now their new poster child.

Once at home and away from all the excitement Jessica & Latseen got to looking at the plans for their new home. Upon inspection it turns out that it was not the ADA accessible custom home they were promised but rather one of the small cookie-cutter homes in Victory Lakes. While a very nice neighborhood, the floor plan for the home left no room for wheelchair access. A custom home with over-sized hallways, living space and restrooms is necessary for Latseen to get around in his own home and they brought this to the attention of BABA, who then promised to update the plans with said amenities. The Benson's then called the builder and were told that there was no way to change the plans without changing the entire home. BABA then pulled those home plans and told the Benson's that they would pick an entirely different home for them.

Several weeks went by and the Benson's never heard back from BABA. Then, by third party, they heard the very disturbing news that BABA had pulled their gift and were no longer going to give the Benson's a home. Upon investigation Jessica found out that BABA was indeed defaulting on their promise because they said, "they only support stable families." Apparently, a personal and private matter with the Benson's relationship was now the cause of BABA's default! Now, I'm not going to elaborate on that issue because I believe it is, and should remain a personal and private issue between Jessica and Latseen. Furthermore, it is not the issue at hand and I believe BABA is simply using the issue to cloud the water. If Jessica or Latseen want to share that part of the story they can tell you about it in the comments below, but, I urge you to not focus on that because it is not the issue. The issue is that a 501C3 supposedly dedicated to providing needed homes for our Troops just pulled the carpet out from under a really, really great family who deserved and earned the home they were promised, period.

There is no such thing as a "stable" military family, however, if you want to talk about strong and devoted and committed and host of other such adjectives to describe the military family you'd be on the right path. Such audacity and hubris! To think that these folks, who only one of which served in the military, can stand there and say that they are passing judgement upon such a great family is beyond me.

BABA's next move was to have a "hearing" at the behest of Jessica and Latseen. Well, what do they do but schedule the hearing for a date when Latseen will be out of the State on a previous engagement and, and, one which Jessica had advised BABA of on previous occasion! BABA would not reschedule the meeting so Jessica was left to stand by herself in front of these vultures who had clearly already made their decision. Theresa and I went to the meeting and sat outside just to give what support we could to Jessica. When Jessica came out of that room in tears I was completely enraged! I wanted to go in there and just beat the living crap out of those smug bastards.

At the end of the meeting BABA had told Jessica that they would contact her in a "few days" to let them know their final decision. Shortly afterward BABA removed the pictures and article about the Benson's from their website. It seems Latseen was no longer good enough to be their poster child. More than a month later one of the BABA board members called Jessica only to say that he was checking up on them but when the conversation turned to ethics he stated that that was not the conversation they should be having and terminated the call. To this day no BABA representative has notified, telephonically or otherwise, the Benson's on their final decision.

This is just plain wrong. The Benson's are really great folks and War Heroes to boot. I think that BABA should be investigated and that they should lose their 501C3 status. I hate to say it. I hate to see an organization set up to assist our War Wounded go under, but, not this one. You just don't treat people the way they did the Benson's. You just don't run an organizaton by the seat of your pants, there are rules to govern that organization. That is partly why you have to apply for 501C3 status.

Oh, and here's the kicker for you... Latseen is an Alaskan Native American! Anybody remember "Manifest Destiny?" Here we have an aboriginal who, out of a love for his country joins our Military to defend all of ours' Freedom and to help those who cannot help themselves attain their Freedom and what reward does he get... he gets his ass blown up, then sent to Walter Reed, then has to fight the VA for what he is rightly entitled to and then, then this is how he is treated by an organization that is supposed to be helping!?! WTF!?!

I will be sending a copy of this to my Congressmen and Representatives. Hopefully you will read this and do the same. Perhaps you can drop BABA a little note and express your feeling to them as well (just click on the title of this entry to get to their website). Thank you.

To Jessica and Latseen, I love you guys. Thank you for serving our Country. It means something to me and, while that isn't much, I know there are others out there who appreciate you as well. Hang in there and we'll all get through this together... One big happy, if not stable, military family.