We have all heard about the emails from Nigeria or from some old lady begging us to help get a large sum of money released in return for a "reward." We have been told to be careful giving our personal information out to people who claim they can help us. This entry is a warning that, unortunately, I and many others around here have encountered in the wounded warrior world. This one breaks me.
There are those WW families who hold out their hands for donations as soon as the injury occurs. They claim that personal expenses are not paid for by the army. They claim that the WW needs so much because he is left with nothing. Let me tell you the truth. But first, I am not perfect, and I am not writing this to pat myself on the back (honestly, I have low self esteem at times and tend to downplay my achievements and capabilities). I am simply using our story, as well as others, to highlight how I have found this journey and what we have encounted thus far.
When Derek was first injured and I received that horrible phone call, I was advised that someone from the army travel department (whatever it is called, I cannot remember right now), would be calling me with information. I received that call within a few days, and I was advised of the following: If Derek was not able to make the flight from Germany or if his condition was grave in Germany, the military would fly me to Germany and house me at the Fisher House. When I told them I did not have a passport, they told me I would then go first to DC and get my passport at the State Department. They told me this would be all free of charge. I was also advised that once it was confirmed where Derek was headed stateside, I would be flown, free of charge, to the closest airport where I would be met by a liaison who would transport me to the hospital. I was also advised that three family members could be issued Invitational Travel Orders. Those three family members would be issued a plane ticket, reimbursed for any other travel expenses incurred, given lodging, and given a daily allowance. When I asked about additional family members, they said a non-profit would provide transportation and lodging for them. When I advised them that I planned to drive to Bethesda, I was advised that my travel expenses (tolls and mileage) would be reimbursed.
I dropped everything and ran to be by his side. Money was the last thing on my mind.
After I arrived, I was given a travel voucher to list my tolls and mileage. Because I had more important things on my mind, it took me about a month to complete it, but not for lack of the Army's trying. SFAC, WTB, WTU and AW2 visited constantly, at least one each day. My son Michael never did complete his. He has been on orders and the only thing he has requested was the lodging. He has never filled out a form to request reimbursement for his mileage or tolls, or to receive the daily allowance.
Michael was placed on orders because I was told Derek's girlfriend (now fiancee) could not be.
Within the first few days of arriving, the three of us on orders, myself, my son Michael, and my ex, were sat down and told about the travel expenses, lodging and daily allowance. We were also told about non-profits who could help with extended family as well as other expenses we might have. All of this occured within the first week.
Yes, in the beginning, we were given so much information on financial matters, medical concerns, etc. that my head was swimming. But I was also given business cards from everyone so that if I had any questions or could not remember what I was told, I could call.
Let me review what we are entitled to receive while here and while Derek is still an inpatient: lodging for three people on orders (the rooms are also large enough for other family members who are not on orders to share), a daily allowance, and travel expenses for one round trip. Any additional travel expenses and lodging can and will be covered by a non-profit (Hero Miles, Yellow Ribbon Fund, etc.)
Within the first month, I was told about non-profits who help with some family expenses - Walter Reed Society, Operation Homefront, etc. Please see my "resources" tab for a list of wonderful organizations.
In addition, Derek is entitled to a car grant and a housing grant. The car grant is for $18,000, I think. Since Derek is not in need of a vehicle right now, we have not completed that paperwork, and I really do not remember the exact amount of the grant. I do know that the vehicle will be modified so that he can drive it. For now, we have a van that was donated to Derek by Bob and Karin Ruppel. The housing grant is around $63,000.00, and it can be used towards a new home or to modify an existing home. There are also organizations who will take the grant and build a house that meets his specifications. There are some restrictions involved with that, and when Derek gets to that point, we will investigate them.
Derek is also eligible for social security disability and for a VA "pension" that will be the portion of his salary that they determine he is entitled to receive. At this point, we are expecting him to be 100% disabled and entitled to 100% of his present salary. So, going forward into the future, Derek will receive his current salary plus social security. This will most likely not be enough to sustain him and pay his personal and future family expenses, but hopefully, he will be able to get an education and find a job.
Most of the wounded warriors are entitled to everything I have outlined above. There are exceptions when the WW sustains what they consider to be "minor" injuries that do not result in a disability, such as a broken bone.
However, all wounded warriors are entitled to a payment from the TSGLI. This is traumatic group life insurance and caps out at $100,000.00.
So, what is the point of this entry? *deep breath*
I want everyone to know about all of the things that our wounded warriors and the family members can receive while on this journey. I want you all to be aware that while we have lost so much, we also are entitled to so much. I want you to be vigilant when donating your hard earned money. I want you to be aware that not everyone is like us, and some will take advantage.
Now, why would the families need help?
The following examples are some, not all, of the reasons, and these usually come to light after a couple of months, not immediately.
We have limited access to non-profits that pay for our personal expenses, such as mortgage, utilities, car payments, etc. There are some, like the Walter Reed Foundation, who will help with some family expenses, but on a limited basis.
A lot of us are let go from our employment. There is a Military Family Medical Leave Act that will protect employment for 23 weeks, but it only applies to businesses with more than 50 people. While the right and moral thing to do in support of our military would be to grant an unpaid leave for as long as the soldier requires assistance, that is not often done. Many of us on this journey have been let go while caring for our loved ones. I spoke with a wife recently who was told she either has to return or resign. While I understand the employer's position in these circumstances, the right and moral thing is to assist the family. Can it really be that difficult to allow an unpaid leave of absense?
Right now, I am in the position of having to find a new employment in a terrible economy, as are many of us. In the meantime, I have personal expenses to cover, such as a car payment, car insurance, mortgage, utilities, health insurance, food, etc. Some of these I can receive assistance with from a non-profit. I have three unemancipated children to support, and I do not receive child support. My ex has refused to pay. I did recenty hear from an attorney on his behalf to try to negotiate child support, but it has been over a week and I still do not have the proposal. He is also not paying in the meantime. I have savings that are adequate for now, but within another couple of months, I will be in trouble. It is hard for me to ask for help. I am swallowing my pride and reaching out to non-profits for assistance.
When Krystina first arrived, she was not on orders. She used her savings and her parents' financial help. I also drove her down with me, paid for many of her meals, and allowed her to stay in my room. Don Patterson arranged for the Marines to assist her with gift cards for a couple of months. Finally, Derek was awake enough to terminate his father's orders and place Krystina on orders. However, when she was not on orders, she never put out her hand and asked for donations. She never asked me for anything. I did not ask people to send money to her to help her. We took care of her.
That brings me to fund raisers.
Derek has had two fund raisers (possibly three but I will address that below), both established and run by friends of the family. I did not ask for these fund raisers. That never even crossed my mind. I do not use Derek's support page (www/facebook.com/teamderekmcconnell) as a way to ask for money. That page is solely for encouraging words for Derek and to show him that the community is behind him. We also use it to get the word out about non-profits, other wounded warriors, and other bits of news we think is important.
When the fund raisers were scheduled, my family stepped forward to help run them. The fund raisers were billed as raising funds to help the family expenses while Mom was with him, as well as for Derek's future needs. The money was deposited into an account for Derek. Derek has asked me to allow him to use that money to pay for my expenses. I do not want to do that unless it is absolutely neccessary. In the event that I do use some of those funds, trust me, it will be posted on Team Derek, and I will address it here. I believe that anyone who has donated money to Derek is entitled to know exactly how that money is being used.
At this time, cash that was sent to us has been used to buy our meals. Any checks that were sent directly to me were deposited into my bank account and used to pay my mortgage, and utilities. Any checks sent directly to Derek were deposited into his bank account and are being saved for his future.
My friend, who is a wounded warrior wife, has donations that were sent to her husband in an account to build them a house so they do not have to use one of the non-profits. A wounded warrior wife, with whom I disagree on most accounts, especially her posting what I consider to be inappropriate pictures, has not used her husband's support page to beg for money. Most of the support pages I have seen have a link or reference for donation if someone wants to help, but the majority of the postings are about the wounded warrior's progress. Money is not the main issue. Unfortunately, there are some who mostly discuss donations, including one I found yesterday.
Do we need donations? Yes. There are certain expenses and needs that are not covered and income now and in the future just is not sufficient to cover them. Into the future, most of Derek's medical needs will be covered by tricare, but not all. He will also need a lot of specialty items, of which some will be provided, but others will have to be purchased by him.
In my own personal opinion, I do not believe that soldiers who sustain a mild injury and are returned to their units shortly thereafter are in need of donations, but I could be wrong. I, unfortunately, encounted one such instance since our arrival here. A soldier received a broken bone, was treated in Germany and sent home for two weeks to recover. Sent home. Not transferred to a stateside hospital. His family did not have to travel anywhere, take time off of work, or incur any expenses as a result of his injury. After two weeks at home, he reported to his home base to be redeployed. Yes, he was injured in battle. Yes, he was entitled to receive his purple heart. Yes, he was entitled to be honored as wounded in combat. However, it is my opinion that since he did not sustain a lasting injury, and since he does not have any additional expenses not covered by the military, he is not in need of donations. Of course, I do not know his personal situation, but from what I saw posted on his support page, it does not seem that he has a need, but there are so many others who do have that need. But you can make up your own mind on that one.
I firmly believe that no family should ever profit from their loved one's injuries, no matter how severe. Unfortunately, I have also seen this.
In my own personal situation, I was advised that a company was raising money for Derek. When I asked for that money to be transferred to Derek, I was told that it was only a few dollars raised by family and friends for this individual's and his family's personal travel expenses. His family did have some travel expenses for the one and only time they came to see Derek. The individual? Not so much.. He was on orders and entitled to lodging and a daily allowance, as well as one flight. The two additional flights could have been covered by Hero Miles. I know for a fact that he completed and submitted a travel voucher requesting reimbursement from the army. I do not know whether or not payment was ever received by him from the army. I do know that he submitted his expenses to the fund raised for Derek and he received payment. I do know that he never told us about this fund, and that my mentioning it in a previous entry was how the fund knew to contact us. The balance of that fund has now been forwarded to Derek. We thank them wholeheartedly for their generosity.
I know of a mother who demanded that donations made to her son be given to her not to her son, the wounded warrior.
I spoke with a wife whose family took money meant for her husband, a wounded warrior, and then denied that they had the funds.
I spoke with a wounded warrior who sent his mother home after she withdrew a substantial sum of money from his account and denied it.
I spoke with a mother who took over her son's financial affairs after his wife took off with the TSGLI payment.
I spoke with a mother who intended on using funds donated for his son's benefit to finally take the vacation she desperately needs. Wait.... what? Yes. She actually told me she was looking forward to finally being able to go on vacation. Yes, I told her I did not think the people who donated the funds meant for her to go on vacation. Her response? She would take her son with her, if he wanted to go, but she really needed this, and of course she would wait until her son was an outpatient. Still wrong, in my humble opinion.
I also recently learned about a support page that is pushing a fund raiser for family who are not on orders. They first posted a claim that as long as the soldier is on active duty, he and his family are on their own for expenses, and that they would not be entitled to anything until he was discharged from the army and was then affiliated with the VA. That is not true. As long as he is an inpatient, three family members can receive the benefits I stated above. As an outpatient, one person will be listed as NMA (non-medical attendant) and entitled to those benefits. When this was pointed out to them, they changed the story to two family members who are not on orders and in need of help. When non-profits were pointed out to them, they became indignant and said, "Read the last post," and they deleted my comment and my friend's comment, both of which were trying to help them and giving them information about the non-profits. It was at the deletion of the comments that I first came to the conclusion they are only out for money. This breaks my heart. According to them, this soldier is severely injured and will need help and the family has to have their expenses paid because the military refuses. Yes, the soldier needs help, but the family should be taken care of by the military and non-profits. And unfortunately, the greed I see on that page is showing us that the money will be used by the family when there is no or little need. Of course, this is only my opinion, which is also the opinion of a couple of my friends and a few people from whom I've seen posts.
Bottom line, please be careful before you write the check. If you have concerns or even if you want to help a broader base, post that you are donating to a specific non-profit in the soldier's name, and advise the family that they can reach out to that organization for help. I am heartbroken that our wounded lose so much and then need to deal with greed. In my perfect world, from where I reside on Hope Island, no one would ever steal from another, and all of our wounded would be the priority (well, not that there would be wounded if it was my perfect world, but you get the point).
I am so thankful for everyone who came out to pray for, support, and love Derek. Those former strangers who opened their hearts and lives to us are forever in my heart. For that reason, I urge you to be careful. We care about you and do not want to see you taken advantage of.
With God's blessing on this Ash Wednesday, I sincerely thank you.
(An entry about our hectic weekend and the blessings of this week is coming soon!)