We had a difficult relationship, many brothers do.
I hope his passing was quick and painless,
but all I know is, that he was found dead on the floor by authorities.
Bill, The brother I was born and raised with, fought with, raised hell with, died 39 years ago though his heart stopped beating January 26th 2012.
He enlisted in the Marines when he was 17. After training he was shipped off to Vietnam.
He served 2 tours as a Huey crew chief. He came back a changed man.
The changes were small at first, a car would backfire a block away and the brother that had been standing next to me was on the ground or taking cover if cover was available.
At the time, I felt that if I had just been in a war zone, I might be looking for cover too.
Bill and I were around one another a lot.
I was working my way through college.
Bill and I worked together repairing cars and motorcycles.
One day when Bill was 25 I showed up to work (we ran our business out of his girlfriend's house and garage) at the expected time and he flew into a rage and ultimately threw me out of his house.
Despite my repeated attempts he would not talk with me or tell me what was wrong.
This outburst followed by refusal to communicate became a pattern that would repeat more frequently and the silences would be longer over the ensuing years.
I had never heard of PTSD.
My brother really never lived on his own, there was always a girlfriend, or someone that saw to the day to day essentials of living. For the last 20 years of his life he lived with my Mom and Dad, until Dad died back in 1994.
After that he lived with my Mom until the end of last summer.
He never could hold a job for more than a few weeks at a time.
Everyone was pleased with his work product, but he would get cross ways with management, and quit or get fired.
He just could not handle the stresses of everyday living.
After my Dad died, I got my brother help applying for disability benefits from the VA.
After a protracted struggle We succeeded in getting him quite a descent monthly benefit.
My brother continued to live with my Mother only now he had money and started drinking.
One of the dirty little secrets about PTSD is alcohol and drug abuse are pervasive.
Like many mental illnesses self medication is one of the big clues. The victims drink/drug because in the short term it moderates how their disease presents (they feel better), getting drunk/high is secondary.
I consulted professionals, the consensus was that any recovery was highly unlikely.
I don't give up easily. I started calling Veterans Administration Social Workers trying to get my brother the help that he needed.
His memory was shot, so he missed appointments.
He lost his drivers License so he could not drive to his appointments.
He was so physically weak that he needed a wheel chair to make it from the car into his local VA Hospital.
The VA had no answers, no transportation, no advocate to get him the services he needed. Their sole response was if he came into the VA facility and agreed to treatment they would treat him.
I want you all to stop and think about the VA's answer. PTSD robs people of their ability to handle normal everyday stress.
On what planet do you ignore soldiers that are to sick to get treatment?
Just making a phone call to try to schedule an appointment was a huge challenge for Bill.
When I was in town he always had a list of people for me to call, problems to straighten out.
Imagine being sick and not being able to ask for help.
That feeling is despair.
Seeing that look in my brother's eyes day after day, failure after failure tore out my heart.
I don't want to bash the people I spoke with at the VA.
Every person I spoke with was kind, I think they cared, they just had no help to offer.
The VA understands PTSD quite well, so they cannot say that they didn't know that many of the veterans they are charged with caring for are not getting treatment.
The simple truth is that the VA is understaffed, under funded and overwhelmed.
They are limited to saving those that are able enough to show up on their own and accept treatment on the VA's terms.
The thing that makes this worse is that the VA is caught in the social limbo of not being able to force treatment on anyone.
This is the same issue that keeps the mentally ill homeless from getting treatment.
Joseph Heller (Catch 22) could not have created a more dysfunctional system.
There is no easy answer.
If you feared that you would be put in a lock down and given medical treatment against your will, you would stay as far away from anyone that had the power to order treatment as you could.
But we aren't talking about healthy people we are talking about cripplingly sick people.
Still the fear of a new gulag stops even the discussion of how to treat those that are in dire need, but can't say yes to treatment.
I don't have a good answer.
I investigated getting a conservator-ship for my brother. The sad answer was that it would be virtually impossible and would take a year even if all went well. My brother did not have a year, he needed treatment right then.
It is ironic that if my brother had threatened or attempted suicide he would have gotten treatment, and possibly some jail time. But because he was very careful to hide his paranoia, his delusions, his 3 DUI's, the stream of police field reports. The VA looked the other way and sent him on his way as soon as he could stand.
I am his witness. A sad end to a sad life.
My brother was so far from perfect that you couldn't see perfect from where he stood, but that doesn't mean he was expendable.
My brother is at peace.
I cannot rest, because I know that there are tens of thousands of soldiers just like my brother that are suffering because no one inside or outside of our government will say we have got to do better.
Well, I am saying it here. We have got to do better.
I don't care that it is hard, I don't care that solving the problem means grappling with the issue of when we must become our brother's and sister's keepers.
I just know that we owe these men and women who put their butts on the line the best care available, not just the best care that is politically expedient.
Thanks for listening, it helps.
This is my first trip to the rec list. On behalf of my brother, I thank you.