I stormed the hill.. Twice! I got to work with some of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met, and became a part of an impressive mission! I am so lucky and so grateful to have found IAVA and to have been able to join them in their amazing work. This is the story of “my why.”
I have had many titles in my life. Wife, mother, teacher, daughter, sister, friend. Three years ago I took on yet another title. I became a veterans advocate. It was a no-brainer for me.
I have had the title of mom for 32 years. It has been my most challenging “job,” has been my greatest joy, and has brought me the most sadness. I have three sons. My oldest joined the Army in 2006. Daniel excelled in this experience, becoming an Intelligence Analyst for the 82nd Airborne, a Sergeant in 22 months, and the 2009 Soldier of the Year for the 7th Special Forces Group. He deployed twice to Afghanistan, developed PTSD, went to school on the Green to Gold Program, became an addict, left the Army in 2014 and died in 2016 after waiting for treatment of his PTSD and addiction from the VA for nearly 16 months. So I became a veterans advocate.
You see, my son was much more than a soldier. He was much more than that brief summary of the last part of his life. He was kind. He was smart. He had dreams. He wanted to make the world a better place. The thing that kept him alive while he waited for help from the VA was “The Plan.” Eventually I became a part of that plan.
Dan was nothing if not a planner. In high school when he wanted to stay in bed until the last possible moment he had “The Laundry Plan!” He made a point of making sure all of his shirts matched all of his pants. Because his mom made all of her boys start doing their own laundry in high school, after doing his wash Daniel would put all his pants on the floor on one side of the bed and all his shirts on the other. Knowing that everything always matched he would lie in bed in the morning, reaching down on each side for a pair of pants and a shirt, and put them on without even opening his eyes!
As Daniel struggled with PTSD and addiction he put together his plan for what he would do when he got better. He wanted to advocate for veterans, every day in every way he could. He wanted to help create veteran friendly legislation, and to help other struggling veterans to receive VA services in a more timely manner than he had been able to. We talked every day, he in Fayetteville, NC, and me in Somers, NY. He told me everything he wanted to do and how he envisioned making it all happen. This plan kept him alive and hopeful, but was not enough to fight off the heroin-related infection that took his life just two weeks before he was to start treatment.
Shortly before Daniel died I made him a promise, and that is when I became the plan. It was clear that he was really struggling with the addiction situation but he didn’t want to come home or have me go to him while he waited for help. So I promised him that if anything happened that prevented him from following his dream to advocate for veterans, I would do it for him. God knows that was not what I wanted, but I wanted him to know I’d always be there to help. When I made that promise to him he laughed long and hard. He said, “Of course you will! You’re the only person I know with a bigger mouth than me!” It was the last time I heard him laugh. Two months later he was gone.
After taking some time to try to put the remaining pieces of my family back together I started venturing out into the world of veterans advocacy. After a year of working my full time job and the 24/7 work of trying to help the veteran community I left my salaried position and started trying to do the advocacy work more impactfully. At the time I told my husband I’d go back to work in three months if I couldn’t find a job advocating. That was in June of 2017. I’ve still not found the job, but I have found my purpose, and that means so much more. Not for nothing, I have the best husband!
I travel to DC from NY at least two weeks out of every month. I talk to anyone and everyone on and off Capitol Hill who will listen. I’ve been blessed in this effort to have met and worked with some truly remarkable people, and I know that the little bit that has gotten done so far has made small but positive differences.
To those who are skeptical that one voice can make a difference, I am here to tell you that it can! I’m almost 60 years old and my life has taken many twists and turns with many different jobs and titles, but I am still here, and I am making a difference. I challenge everyone, as I have always challenged my kids. If you see a problem do something about it. Big or small, one effort at a time, we can all make a difference!