Well, it’s been 365 days. A year ago I filed for benefits with the Department of Veterans Affairs for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I filled out the application on line, collected up all of my documentation – orders, efficiency reports and awards, medical records – authorized all of my doctors and counselors to release information about my treatment, and sent all of this in as part of my claim.
During the year it has taken the Veterans Benefits Administration to process my claim, I have received treatment for PTSD from the other half of the VA, the Veterans Health Administration. I have also received education benefits so I could go to night school. And tomorrow, on the one-year anniversary of my filing for benefits, I am finally scheduled for my compensation and pension (C&P) examination.
I’m nervous about the exam. I’m still struggling. I shake. I have images in my head that won’t go away. I don’t go out to movies or to restaurants that I don’t know well. I get lost driving in my own neighborhood. I have to make notes to myself to remember where I’m going and whom I’m going to see. You don’t even what to know about my sleep.
But I’m nervous about the exam because it means I’ll have to unwrap all of this one more time. Once again, I will have to inventory the fear, the shaking, the long nights being too afraid to sleep, the drinking, the broken marriage, the pictures in my head, and the gun in my hand. I’ve already done this three times at the same hospital for three different doctors. Tomorrow, hopefully, for the last time, I’ll do it once again.
One of the things about PTSD is that the more you talk about the things in your head the more control you’re supposed to have over them. I have a small sign taped to the wall next to my desk that reads: either you control the story or the story controls you. I suppose a psychiatrist might substitute the word memory for story in that last sentence, but I think of these events in my life as stories.
There are stories from Afghanistan and stories from Darfur. There are stories from Iraq and from Zaire. There is a story about pulling dead bodies out of a well and one about a man tortured to death with an acetylene torch. There are a few about the Taliban firing rockets at us. There’s a story about a guy holding a gun against my head and screaming he was going to kill me. There’s one about me holding a gun against my own head, ready to do it myself.
So tomorrow I’ll go over the VA hospital in the morning and check in for my appointment. Then I’ll tell the stories one more time.
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more…