We were contacted last week and told that there was a special event at the White House to honor caregivers and we were selected to participate. Actually, it was a White House sponsored event at the Dept. of Labor.
On Friday, we went through the hassle to go to Fort Belvoir and get Derek his dress uniform. It didn't come with any of the things that they attach to the uniform, so Derek's Squad Leader helped with some of his stuff and this morning at 0700, we were in 62 to get some other stuff. Derek's uniform looked sharp, even though it didn't have everything and didn't have his battalion crest. The best part of today was that Derek got a free dress uniform.
We showed up at 0700, as instructed, and the bus left at 0830, half an hour late.
The ride and set up was longer than the "program." First, the Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, spoke.
She introduced a wounded warrior wife whose husband was injured three years ago in a helicopter crash and she told her story. Then the wife introduced Michelle Obama who discussed proposed changes to the FMLA as it pertains to military families. More on that later. Some of the changes are good. But they are only proposals. Not set yet. And too late for those of us living this life.
She spoke for a few short minutes, and really the only "honor" for the caregivers was the statement, "We want to recognize the extraordinary dedication, sacrifice and service of our nation's caregivers, not simply with words but with deeds."
On the way out greeted only two of the dozen wounded warriors present and the military brass. One of the Moms asked for her to come back and see the other wounded warriors, and she was told that she had already left. If she wanted to honor the dozen caregivers present in the audience, she could have spent ten minutes and greeted them all!
This was supposed to be an event to honor caregivers? Really? This is why we dressed up, got up early, and paraded in? Seriously? So not worth the effort. Well, if what I discussed with Ms. Solis pans out, it might have been worth half the effort.
It was wonderful meeting the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James F. Amos (picture 1 below), the Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. Raymond Odierno and his wife, Linda (picture 2 below), and the Joint Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. Martin Dempsey and his wife, Dennie. We had met Gens Odierno and Dempsey and their lovely wives before. Linda brings her pup Tootsie to visit us!
When we got back, we had a visit from Major General Mark Milley. What a great guy! He is the new commander of the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum.
So, this was not what they told us it was. Apparently, it was an honor to the caregivers to sit and listen to a speech about a proposed policy that won't do US any good. And Derek was miserable. He and the other guys sweat like mad, and Derek was in pain. It was not fun.
So what are the proposed changes?
Right now, if you are on military orders, you may take an unpaid leave of absence from your employment for up to 23 weeks without fear of losing your job. The change would lengthen that to 26 weeks. But this only applies to businesses with more than 50 employees. Doesn't do me any good. Doesn't do most of us any good, because most of us worked for smaller employers. We would rather have a change that states we won't be paid while we are away, but as long as keeping a space for us would not cause unnecessary burden on the employer, our employment would be held for up to one year. Let's face it, for the types of injuries these guys suffer, 23 or even 26 weeks is just not sufficient. We have been here 27 weeks, and we are still inpatient. While we are not typical, most guys are outpatient after about 60 days (8 weeks), and then start rehab. Rehab lasts about one to two years, depending on the severity of the injuries. However, after a year, most of the guys are stable enough to not need a constant NMA.
Another part of the FMLA is that a family member can take unpaid leave of up to 12 weeks when a member of the National Guard or reserves is called up to deploy. They want to extend this to the regular military.
This proposed changes would also permit other benefits to the caregivers, such as medical insurance.
Additionally, when guys come home on R&R, it is for 15 days. Family members cannot take that time off of work, unless they have enough vacation days. Right now, the approved time is only 5 days. They want to extend that to the entire 15 days unpaid leave without penality.
This would also extend to allow family members to take unpaid leave to help vets for up to five years after their injury. That doesn't mean the family member can take five years off. It means that for up to five years after injury, a spouse, parent or child can take 26 weeks to care for the wounded warrior.
They are considering comments for the next 60 days before considering making these proposals final.
But like I said above, none of these changes help the caregivers of today. They are all for future wounded warrior caregivers. I, like so many others, are facing the toughest challenge of my life. Now, in addition to having to help my son recuperate, I must face a job search in this horrible economy. And I am not even home to look for a job. Where do I look? Maryland and move my children here at their ages? New Jersey when I am not there and cannot give a start date? It's a real quandry.
However, I was advised today that other policies are being considered to help caregivers during this time. This was not part of the meeting, but during a conversation prior thereto. If these proposed changes come to pass, it would really help caregivers, both present and in the future.
So, although today was disappointing, it was an experience. And Derek got his dress blues!
Tomorrow...... standing on the tilt table! (As long as Mike finished his prosthetic.)
Good things are coming around the corner. Although we are still in the darn hallway after the door to our old life closed, doors are starting to crack open. We will make it, even if we have to drag some people with us to make the changes we need!
Climb to glory! All the way! To the top, baby! I'll meet you there.... with a drink in hand!