Hurry Up and Wait: A (not so) fairy-tale
By Laura Blair
Is this normal?
Once upon a time, there was a military family enjoying their stable (or as stable as military life can be), joy-filled lives.
Then, one day, the service member got really sick, and eventually, the Med Board process was started. And then, the biggest rollercoaster of their lives began.
Sometimes you may know ahead of time that a Med Board is going to be recommended; other times, especially in the case of Traumatic Brain injuries or accidental or life changing injuries, you may be in the hospital recovering when the Doctor comes in and tells you “This is going to be career ending” and walks out the door, while you and your spouse are left there speechless.
The Med Board process is a lot of “hurry up and wait.” There will be periods where you have to hustle to provide a lot of information during multiple appointments and other times where you will hear NOTHING. NADA. RADIO SILENCE.
It can be difficult to navigate the process simply because life will never be the same for your family again. It is likely you will experience multiple stages of grief, multiple times.
Depression. Anger. Bargaining. Denial. Acceptance. There will be days when you cycle through several stages in the same day. This. Is. Normal.
So, what can you do?
1) Get a therapist. Tricare will pay for individual counseling for a set number of sessions. Military One Source is a good resource that provides time-limited counseling as well. You may have to pay out of pocket for Marriage Counseling, but believe me when I say, it’s worth it. There is a specialization called Medical Marriage and Family Therapy that can be beneficial to you, as well as the Military Marriage and Family Therapy specialization. However, if you can’t find someone with either of these specializations, a traditional Marriage and Family Therapist is your best bet.
Therapy will be especially important if you become your spouse’s caregiver. There are numerous
support groups dedicated to this.
2) Document and keep everything. Go out to your office supply store TODAY and get the largest 3-ring binder they sell. You WILL fill it up. Request any and all medical records so that you have copies, as things do get lost. This can make the difference between having sufficient evidence for a rebuttal (if necessary) or having your claim denied.
Some things you’ll want to keep:
Medical records (past and present)
Medication information (the Pharmacy always gives a print out when you fill a medication; keep this).
Copies of any forms you submit. (While the VA does send you back your originals after they have been processed, don’t bank on them not getting lost.)
3) Stay in contact with your PEBLO (Physical Evaluation Board Liaison Officer) and VA (Veteran’s Affairs) Liaison. They will be your points of contact throughout the process. Get their phone number, email address, and days/hours they are in the office.
4) Be an advocate for your spouse. Depending on their level of current functioning, you may be their voice. Don’t be greedy and try to obtain benefits for things you’re not entitled to, but also don’t sit back and think everyone has your best interest in mind. You are not their only Med Board candidate. Things slip through the cracks.
If you are a therapist supporting families going through this situation, arm yourself with as much information as you can, but also empower your client to do as much research as they can for themselves. Knowledge is power, and it can be therapeutic to the client to be able to feel proactive, instead of helpless.
5) Buckle up and get ready for the long haul. While the Med Board process has a published cap of 295 days for the entire process, every case is different, and no two Med Boards are the same.
Where are they now?
Fast forward to today (after more than 6 months of “hurry up and wait” and bouncing between bargaining, denial, and acceptance), that military family has since experienced a Medical Retirement and are navigating that thing called “Civilian Life.” They have moved back to their home state, and are enjoying new roles: he’s a stay at home dad, and she’s off to work everyday. It’s a role reversal, yes, but it is totally doable. This life change was not marriage ending (thank goodness), and the family still has big dreams - different dreams - for their life together, including an international vacation…someday.
MSBHC seeks to connect military spouses with their peers in order to gain and give support and to share knowledge and best practices with each other. What is your role, your experience and your perspective on this subject?
Laura Blair is a National Certified Counselor, Registered Psychotherapist, and Doctoral student in Marriage and Family Therapy at Northcentral University. Her husband is recently retired, and they currently live in Colorado. Laura is a Substance Use Disorder therapist for community mental health. In her spare time, she loves to do crafts and activities with their two sons and dogs.