An Update

Greetings everyone. I hope that you have been doing well.

I enjoyed my week off so much that I have decided to continue it for one more. In addition, there are some changes coming to the newsletter that I want to discuss with you.

I have given a lot of thought this week to what this newsletter has been, and what I want it to be going forward. Part of that consideration is the context within which I have published Combat Snuggles.

I started this newsletter as a way of making sense of (what I hoped would be) the end of the Trump administration. It was also a way of processing in real time all that was happening with the ongoing pandemic. I first started writing this newsletter in April of last year. I basically needed a way to think about 2020. This newsletter helped provide that.

And the fact is, things have changed. The pandemic still rages and is, in some ways, even more scary. And there is also hope. Multiple vaccines, and an administration that sees competence as an obligation, not a punchline. I think that the very best parts of our shared experiences will slowly return over this year. And I look forward to that. 

Trump is gone. And I think that while there are still so many things to worry about, and so many pieces that still need to be picked up, we are better without him. There is at least a group of professional leaders in government trying to make things better, not arsonists setting fires just to watch the world burn. We will move on from Trump. That doesn’t mean things will be perfect. But they will be better.

Personally, my context has changed too.

In 2010, I started going to the VA, mainly to get help with my recurring nightmares and the self-medication I was doing to sleep. Shortly thereafter I was diagnosed with PTSD. Further testing revealed a traumatic brain injury believed to be the result of multiple concussions as well as a significant blast injury in Iraq. 

At the urging of my wife (who filled out the application for me), I applied for service connection for this injury. In early 2011, the VA gave their decision. I was rated for PTSD, but not the brain injury. The VA agreed that I did have a brain injury (it’s hard to deny the MRI), but not that it was caused by my military service. Because I hadn’t had a brain scan before I joined, said the VA, I had no proof. 

I appealed and went through another round of testing. Once again the VA conceded that I had a brain injury, but I was still denied because they couldn’t verify that my service was the cause. This time, they also argued that because I scored high on intelligence tests, I was not impaired. Basically, their argument went, you have brain damage, but you are still smart, quit bitching.

I appealed again. This time, I hired a lawyer to help me fight the paperwork battle. That was 6 years ago, 4 years into this process. 

I have been tested more times, in more ways, and by more people than I can count. I have been to VA facilities and contractors around North Carolina, in every corner of the state. I have had physical exams, mental exams, cognitive exams, and had my brain scanned multiple times.

I have had multiple legal hearings before administrative judges. In fact, I found out a couple of weeks ago I was due to have one in early February. I reached out to my lawyer to ask her if it would be possible to do the hearing remotely.

A day later, I got an email from her with the subject “Good News.” I assumed she was writing to tell me that our request for a remote hearing had been approved. I was wrong.

She was emailing to tell me that the VA had made a final decision on my appeal. And my appeal was granted.

I won. It’s over.

The VA admitted that the original decision was made in error and that my service connection should have included my brain injury as well as my PTSD. I was being given retroactive credit back to 2011.

This is huge for me personally. It means that the VA is on the hook for caring for my brain injury (and everything else). It means that I qualify for lifelong medical coverage. It means that my family doesn’t have to worry about me in the statistically likely event of my cognitive decline. 

There are other benefits too. Like the fact that my kids qualify for free college. Like the fact that my family members are eligible for medical care. Dozens of other things I haven’t even had time to process yet.

The most incredible thing is that the VA has deemed my brain injuries “permanent and irreversible” which on the one hand is kind of scary, but on the other means that this decision can’t be reversed. There won’t be any more tests. No more exams. No more pleading for the VA to see that I was hurt while I was at war and it fucked me up and it is not okay. 

I feel heard. I finally feel believed. I feel validated. I feel like someone finally listened to the truth.

It has been 10 years. 10 years of struggle and pain and aggravation. 10 years of times where I doubted myself and my own truth. 10 years of tears in VA parking lots and angry outbursts at neurology interns, and at least once being detained by the police inside the Durham VA until I could calm down.

And it’s over. It’s overwhelming. And joyous and just so many things all at once.

There has been a lot of change, and I feel like the newsletter should change too.

Moving forward there will be a few key changes:

  • The newsletter will be published less frequently. Instead of every day, it will only come out 2-3 times per week. I will be focusing on the content that has seemed to connect the most with people (and that I most enjoy writing) - the 5 Things, Undelivered Sermons, and longer reflective content. 

  • I still want to talk about and share things that I find interesting, along with updates on the family and pictures. That will happen on social media. You can follow me (@combatsnuggles) on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. That has the added benefit of being a place where we can actually converse about the things that are happening.

  • The newsletter schedule will be a bit more random, so watch your inbox. I will post at least once a week, starting again on Valentine’s Day with the 5 Things I Have Learned About Love.

The other BIG change to the newsletter is that from this point forward everything will be open. There will be no subscriber specific posts. I truly, deeply appreciate everyone who has invested in me over the past year. And I hope that everyone who can will buy a subscription as a way of supporting this work. And the content will be available to everyone moving forward, whether they are paid subscribers or not. This means that everything that I write can be shared, so feel free to forward or share on social media.

Thank you all so much for continuing to read and support this work. While we won’t be seeing each other every day (at least not in this format) we WILL be seeing one another. And you will be the first to know what is next for me. Hint: there is a book coming.

In the meantime, be well. Keep pounding the rock. I will see you on social media and I will be back here on Valentine’s Day with my next newsletter.

Thanks y’all. See you soon.