Saturday, December 6, 2014

Judgement & Helplessness

This past week we have watched a few friends and even ourselves being judged by the public. I totally understand that when you put yourself out there, you should expect the backlash. Chaz and I learned that lesson a very long time ago. We always say anytime you walk out front be ready for the hits, because they will be coming. We always just pray it's a low number. And we pray for the strength to let the hits roll off our backs easily.

I have to admit I would rather us take the beating any day than to watch our friends go through it again. This week we had to just stand by and watch car loads of crazy come at our friends from a never ending train of stupid. And oh my word, it got ridiculous.

I understand everyone gets a little bit braver behind a keyboard. What I don't understand is why can't we combine the keyboard with the mouse and get a lot more educated?

Can you imagine what could happen if we combined that little bit of bravery with a lot more education? We could really change the world.

But no instead we choose to take what the media or hearsay gives us, which are always just snips and sound bites of things, and we let the partial truths determine our judgements. We can do better.

We have all learned the hard way at some point that the snips and sound bites only give you the cover to the book.We have to read the entire book before truly making our judgement. It amazes me that we have all learned that lesson again and again, but somehow we forget it so quickly and cast our judgement as easily as we breathe.

I have had the honor of meeting hundreds of families that need help healing from war. This help comes in all forms. Some are like us, they need safe homes built for them. Some need financial assistance. Some need mental health. The list of needs is very long. When I am dealing with these families I always remember there are at least three sides to every story and one of those is hopefully the truth. I usually have to take the different stories and analyze them before making my judgement and determine how to help them. And sometimes I cannot help them enough and I have to sit back and somehow find contentment in my helplessness. I have fully accepted that one of my weaknesses is that I cannot help everyone, no matter how much I want to, as my mom says it, "Heal the world."

It's the helplessness that haunts me. It's the helplessness that keeps me up at night. I know I cannot help everyone. I know I cannot solve everyone's problems. I feel I just cannot stand by helpless and watching people we know be judged by others who only know the cover of the story, but this is where I sit for now. I sit in the valley of judgement and helplessness. I sit and I pray that time passes and our friends will find healing from the harsh words of those who choose to not get the full story.

I know that engaging in cyber word warfare will not win any battles. I can't tell you how many times I walk away from the computer to keep myself from a word war. These are such a waste of our time. We are all humans and we are all full of flaws. We all have our minds made up about the things we read or watch.

I believe we can do better. I believe we must all try to educate ourselves on the differences of others. And most importantly we have to remember that all of these people are people. They are reading and hearing all of the nasty comments that are being made about them. We need to all just take a moment and think about their feelings. We also need to take a minute and think about what their families have been through thanks to what our country has asked of them. Our friends have served and sacrificed so much and they deserve our compassion and caring, not our quick judgements on the snips of information we have been presented. This doesn't just apply to our wounded, ill and injured friends, I think we all can identify with being in the valley of helplessness and judgement at some point.

I truly think we all need to take time to remember what Thumper said, "If you can't say nothing nice, don't say nothing at all."

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

#GivingTuesday

It's Giving Tuesday!!!

I just wanted to publish another list of great non-profits!! These organizations have either supported our family on our journey or I have worked with them in some capacity through my job at Yellow Ribbon Fund. They are all military based. Unfortunately I do not have a lot of experience with civilian non-profits. ;)

Here's our 2014 Giving Tuesday list!! You can click on the link to easily learn more about each non-profit.

  1. Yellow Ribbon Fund www.yellowribbonfund.org 
  2. Fisher House Foundation www.fisherhouse.org
  3. Elizabeth Dole Foundation http://elizabethdolefoundation.org
  4. America's Fund http://americasfund.org/
  5. Operation Ward 57 http://www.operationward57.org/
  6. Independence Fund http://www.independencefund.org/
  7. Help Our Military Heroes http://www.helpourmilitaryheroes.org/
  8. Nine Line Foundation http://www.ninelinefoundation.org/
  9. The General's Kids http://www.thegeneralskids.org/
  10. Team Overwatch  http://www.veteranoverwatch.org/
  11. Operation Enduring Warrior http://www.enduringwarrior.org/
  12. Quality of Life Foundation http://qolfoundation.org/
  13. CPT Kyle Comfort Foundation http://www.kylecomfortfoundation.org/
  14. Our Military Kids http://www.ourmilitarykids.org/
  15. Operation Second Chance http://www.operationsecondchance.org/
  16. 101st Association http://www.screamingeagle.org/
  17. Semper Fi Fund http://semperfifund.org/
  18. Aleethia Foundation http://www.aleethia.org/
  19. Blue Star Families http://bluestarfam.org/
  20. MOAA http://www.moaa.org/
  21. Luke's Wings http://www.lukeswings.org/
  22. National Military Family Association http://www.militaryfamily.org/
  23. Code of Support http://codeofsupport.org/
  24. AUSA http://www.ausa.org
  25. Operation Homefront http://www.operationhomefront.net/
  26. USO http://www.uso.org/
  27. Cause http://www.cause-usa.org
  28. Veterans Airlift Command http://www.veteransairlift.org/
  29. Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund http://fallenheroesfund.org/
  30. Luke's Wings http://www.lukeswings.org/ 
  31. Freedom Alliance https://freedomalliance.org/
Please note: This list is not a ranking list. This list is simply a list of great non-profits that all popped into my head when I started thinking about who we would love to give donations to during this holiday season if we could give. Since our funds are all tied up in savings for our new home, the very least we can do is provide a list of who we would help if we could!

Please consider giving to this great charities this holiday season! They do put their donated dollars where they count! Thank you!!!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

We're So Close....

We are so close to our goal of having our forever home's mortgage under $200,000!!! We've been working hard with our builders and suppliers to secure product donations. We were so blessed by the success of "writing on the walls" fundraiser we had. We also have been blessed by some great donations coming in from some great non-profits who want to see Chaz in a safe home that will enable his independence. We are so close to that goal that when 9line offered to be the facilitator for another fundraiser for us, we just had to say yes.

We are so thankful for everyone who has helped us so far on this journey. We want everyone to know that every dollar donated truly counts. Here are a few examples of where money is going in our home.
  • $5 buys 10 electrical covers. 
  • $10 buys a towel bar. 
  • $25 buys the faucet for the girls' bathroom. 
  • $50 buys 5 sheets of drywall. 
  • $75 buys a ceiling fan.
  • $100 buys 17 tubes of caulk.

Here's an October picture of our home! We hope to get there soon and get up to date pictures! But at least with this one you can see we have made progress!!

Back to that new fundraiser we are launching today! By going to https://secure.west-point.org/9linefoundation/chazallen/ you can learn more and can participate.

With this fundraiser, we are tossing in a personal Allen Family touch. With every donation of $50 or more, we will mail you one of our super cute, homemade and full of love ornaments for your Christmas tree. Here's a picture of our ornaments in the making.

We love adding ornaments to our tree. We love to give them as gifts. It is our hope that you will not only cherish our ornament this year, but we hope you will put it on your tree for years to come and remember how you helped our family build our forever home!!!

In 2015, our forever home will be finished and you'll finally get to see where every dollar raised has gone! We just cannot wait to share the joyous occasion with everyone!! I don't think we have been so excited to see a New Year arrive!

Please consider helping us reach our goal by contributing to this fundraiser and by sharing this with you networks! Thank you!!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Enough....

What is enough? Most of us think of enough when have had enough food or are we warm enough? What about when someone tells you that your spouse "isn't wounded enough" to qualify for assistance? Did you ever think you'd hear that?

I know you are probably thinking that I am kidding, but I am not. Our friends did a story with a Maryland news reporter about "not being wounded enough." You can watch it here.

I wish I could say Franz and Shannon are the only ones who have ever heard these words "wounded enough," but no Chaz and I have heard it many times. And we are just a few who have heard this statement. Families are told this all the time. We were once told if Chaz had lost his arm instead of letting Walter Reed save it, then we could qualify for more things. I truly wish I was making that up, but I am not.

Yes friends, there's a magical scale out there that determines when our wounded have been "wounded enough." Knowing this should make you very uncomfortable. Knowing this should make you angry and it should make you question the non-profits you donate to. Knowing this should make you angry enough to challenge the VA's Special Adaptive Housing Grant.

I have known Franz and Shannon since the early days of their journey. I have given them tons of big sister style advice. Turns out we grew up about twenty miles apart from each other, but it took war to bring us together.

Franz and Shannon have been turned down by several non-profits because, wait for it......he has both of his legs. Many non-profits who build homes rely on the wounded to get their special adaptive housing grant of $67,555 in order to build them a home. (Please note: The VA states the maximum dollar amount allowable for SAH grants in fiscal year 2014 is $70,465 on their website. We were informed by our TN-VA rep that we will receive $67,555 for our home build.) If you click here you can read why they are not fully qualifying Franz for the VA grant. According to the VA representatives they met with, he has to have loss or loss of use of two extremities. They were denied they VA adaptive vehicle grant because of the same reason.

Franz was shot five times by Afghan troops who were supposed to be friendly. They shattered his hip, and it had to be totally replaced. Walter Reed is still trying to save one of his legs. Franz can walk, but with a lot of pain. The walking pain is Franz and Chaz's bond. Neither of them can walk without horrible pain. So just like Chaz, Franz needs to be in his wheelchair the overwhelming majority of his day. This means that like Chaz, Franz needs a fully accessible home built for him.

Chaz and I have spent 2014 learning all about building your own home. So many think a non-profit is building our home. This is NOT true. Chaz and I are building our home! We secured the construction loan and we have secured donations of products and cash to make his home a reality. But a home-building non-profit is NOT helping us build our forever home.

The first home building non-profit we talked to told us Chaz wasn't "injured enough" to qualify for one of their homes. The second wanted complete control over our bank accounts. The third showed up and had a ground breaking and then stopped communicating with us. It was at this point where we took charge and just have done it ourselves.

We have had several non-profits approach since we began our build. They all wanted to fire our builders and refuse the products we had been given and take complete control of our build. My favorite was the one who said we needed to stop our build immediately, apply with them and they would guarantee our home would be build within two years. Or the other one that said for us to stop building and they would build for us within two years in another state. Or the other one that said if we would give them all the money we had raised they would make sure our build was finished and finished correctly.

Franz and Shannon have watched our family go through all of this BS for the past two years. TWO YEARS!!! For two years, we have had people dangle carrots in front of us with their magic promises so we would follow their lead, only to not return emails or phone calls. Or they finally come back and say they can't help us because Chaz "isn't wounded enough" or that we have done "enough for ourselves to where we really don't need assistance."

In the hopes of being good friends, Chaz and I have shared our entire journey with Franz and Shannon. It is our hope that rather than being told they are not enough of something that they know that some people actually care and won't help them with crazy strings or criteria attached. But the one thing we cannot help them with is the VA. We cannot make them "grant accepted." Only the VA can decide if Franz can have that $67,555.


He will need that money to build his home. An accessible home includes wider door ways, lower counter tops, special features in the bathroom and throughout the home. The booklet of tasks you must complete for the VA to give you that $67,555 is huge. The good news for Franz and Shannon is if they can get grant approved, Chaz and I know the VA rep that will be approving their build and we will be able to help them there. 

Our forever home will cost $430,000 by the time it is finished. I have chatted with several families over the cost of their homes. Many that we have chatted with share the price range we are in, we know of several who have homes way above our price range.

You might say that is too much, but the non-profit who held the groundbreaking....the house they proposed to us had an estimated cost of over $600,000. Chaz and I cut out over $170,000 in our home and then we had to actually make it fully accessible. Yes the people who were supposed to build us an "accessible home" did not provide us with accessible plans. We had to sit with the VA and adjust the plans before building. Then we, with the help of our builders, set out to get as many product and cash donations as possible for our home.

As a nation, we are failing our wounded, ill and injured. We are making them continue to fight for benefits they should receive. Franz should not have to fight for his grant. Just like Chaz, Franz has paperwork to show he was deployed to Afghanistan, then medically evacuated out of the battlefield, to Germany and then to Walter Reed. Just like Chaz, Franz will have an enormous medical record substantiating his injuries from the war he fought in. But because Chaz lost two legs and you can visibly see his struggle the VA will give him a grant. Because they can see that Franz still has legs, they ignorantly assume he is "not wounded enough" to warrant the grant for his home. Franz just like Chaz fought, bled and almost died for our country. Our VA system should provide him the same benefit.

Just like Chaz, the VA benefit of $67,555 will not be enough to build Franz and Shannon's forever home. They will need us all to step up and help wherever we can. Chaz and I are helping by sharing information of all sorts with Franz and Shannon. It is our hopes that once we build our home, we can then help them build theirs. A Go Fund Me account has been set up for them to get this home built. Please consider helping them. You can visit their link by clicking here.

If you want to learn more about Franz and Shannon, you can visit their facebook page by clicking here. Please lift them up in your prayers and support them however you can!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Oh No!! We've Been Caught!!

This article caught my eye last night...Veterans Caught Triple-Dipping on Benefits

I thought, what? Veterans Caught?! What's this?!

You know what this is? This is the sensational writings of someone with a little bit of information. Of course I read it and think well Hell we've been caught...That's right my Cat 2 rated, 100% permanently and totally disabled husband triple dips...Then my brain paused and realized he isn't doing one thing wrong.

Thanks to legislation passed years ago, Chaz is able to collect VA disability, CRSC (Combat Related Special Compensation) and Social Security. And I don't feel like he's doing anything to warrant the statement of "being caught."

You know what upsets me the absolute most about this article. This will drive civilians further away from our veterans. We, as a country, need to understand our veterans better and appreciate their service and sacrifice; instead this article promotes resentment from civilians towards our veterans. This article makes it look like they are a big drain on the government because of their disabilities. This article makes it look like we are all rolling in money, let me assure you we are not. 

Here's the truth for this household, we are financially better off today than we were prior to Chaz's injuries. Do you know why? Um because I now have a full-time job! We are now a two income family. It's not a secret that having two incomes makes a big difference in a household. Wait, I guess we've "been caught" on that too now. I guess I should stop confessing.

Most people will read that article and blame Senator Coburn, but I blame him and the author equally for their misreading of the GAO report which you will find here. If you click in the story it won't take you to the report it only takes you back to the article, funny huh?!

Take the time and read the facts in the report. Senator Coburn and this author sure as heck didn't.

One thing they did get correct SSDI is running out of money, but they seemed to have forgotten that the veterans we are speaking of who are drawing that income....wait for it....paid into SSDI by working. SSDI is based on the person's career earnings paid into the Social Security System. Not making this up and yes, I even found it in the GAO's report.

Then I found this lovely fallacy in their article, "But Social Security rules don’t treat military retirement or VA disability payments as regular income..." um...did they check with IRS publication 17? No form of retirement or disability payment is considered regular income. This has been the law for decades and is not exclusive to the military payment system.

The article mentioned a few numbers that they took the liberty of estimating, but they left out a few other facts but you can find in the GAO Report. Here's one example.



Out of 1.9 million DOD nondisability and disability retirees, we identified 59,251 individuals who received concurrent payments in fiscal year 2013 from DOD retirement, VA disability compensation, and SSDI. The payments totaled over $3.5 billion.

Characteristics of 59,251 individuals:

  • A total of 40,179 (or 68 percent) each received between $25,000 and $74,999 in total compensation. 
  •  A total of 2,304 (or 4 percent) each received concurrent payments of $100,000 or more, with the highest beneficiary receiving $208,757 in fiscal year 2013. 
  • The age of the individuals receiving concurrent payments ranged from 19 to 66, with almost half (28,626, or 48 percent) of the individuals age 60 or above as of January 2013. 
  •  The combined benefits for these individuals age 60 or above totaled $1.7 billion. 
  •  A total of 48,127 (or 81 percent) had a VA disability rating equal to or greater than 50 percent. 
  •  A total of 10,289 (or 17 percent) received compensation due to a combat related disability.
I read through that and immediately holy moley these guys went on a negative fishing trip. Did you know the GAO found the average VA pay out for FY2013 was $13,131 and the average SSDI pay out for 2013 was $11,953. So the average disabled veteran pulled in $25,084 from those two sources.And you know what? I am totally ok with my tax dollars going there. I hope that income helps those families.


Here's my bottom line, it appears that this author is jealous some of our disabled veterans have a higher income than he does. I am not sure what the Senator's excuse is, because we all know he makes way more. I think that the Senator wants some attention, well he's got mine that's for sure. I don't really care for people who get attention by telling a tenth of the story. The great state of Oklahoma elected him to serve them and in my option he needs to go find another fight to fight. Here's one....Senator go take care of your state's VA hospital system. From what I hear, it needs a lot of help.

Let me assure the author and the Senator that every caregiver I know including myself would happy hand over every benefit check to the government to have a happy healthy service member back. Absolutely NO amount of money can ever fully heal anyone. I do appreciate the income coming in, because we have a house to build to suit his needs and we sure can't do it on my salary alone.

I really would love for the author and the Senator to visit with my Oklahoma born and bred, disabled veteran hubby and his father, who is also a disable veteran, and tell them they didn't earn their benefits. We'll make the time for that conversation, I can assure you.

It is beyond ignorant to accuse our veterans of being caught doing anything beyond serving our country and sacrificing for our great nation. And if I was registered to vote in OK, I sure as heck wouldn't vote this guy back in. 

It is also beyond ignorant to paint a picture of disabled veterans rolling in the taxpayers' dough. If we are we so financially well off then please tell me why so many are veterans homeless? Why are so many veterans dependent on non-profits to build them homes to suit their disabilities? Why are so many veterans on the verge of bankruptcy? And why oh why are we paying out of pocket for things the VA is supposed to provide?

I read the report and you know what it actually makes me feel better knowing that our disabled veterans have income from various sources to help them and their families. I only wish the GAO had a report on the gap the non-profits have to fill because the government is not doing enough. Something tells me the Senator wouldn't read that one, oh wait he barely read this one.

One last thing for the Senator, if you don't want to pay for our veterans and their disabilities then perhaps you should stop voting to send them to war. Just a thought to toss out there.

Friday, October 3, 2014

1 Bulldog vs. 3 Pit Bulls

I try my best to walk (and sometimes run) a 5k everyday. I love my 3.1 mile course around our neighborhood. My walks are my time to clear my head and think about nothing for a while. Even though that "thinking nothing" seldom happens, I always feel better after those 3.1 miles are behind me. My route is hilly, but smooth and there are few problems if any.

Many days I have friends join me on my route. I love walking with friends. It's a great time for us to catch up. Wednesday my friend and I were less than a quarter of a mile from home when we noticed 3 pit bulls running around a yard across the street. I told my friend to just keep walking because they were across the street and were quite a bit from us. I truly was not worried about the dogs at all.

Then I heard the alpha bark. I turned and I saw him coming for us with the other two following. I pushed my friend out of the way and yelled at her to keep walking home to get help, but just walk away. I then turned from my friend and confronted the Alpha head on. He snapped and snarled and then I barked words at him louder than his bark. I do not even remember what I said, but I totally controlled him. The Alpha and I barked out a few rounds at each other. Then he cowered and made a whimpering sound and went back to the yard we originally saw them playing in.

Once I saw the dogs reach a decent distance from us, I grabbed my friend who had just frozen out of fear from a past experience and told her we must walk slowly home. If we run that will stir them up. I do remember telling her to get 9-1-1 ready on her phone. I was expecting the Alpha to charge me. I even made a comment that he would get my right calf for sure.

We made it home and told Chaz what had happened. We were both visibly shaken. My friend more than me at first because she had been very savagely attacked by a dog a few years ago. Once my adrenalin calmed I started shaking pretty bad. I could not control my hands. I knew this had also upset Chaz which just made my hands shake more. I took several breaths and got my hands to stop shaking for a bit.

Unfortunately I did not have time to really calm down. I had to get out the door for a doctor's appointment (and can you believe my blood pressure was normal). Once I got into my car and was driving down the road it all really hit me. That dog was going to attack me and once he started the other two were going to join him. Oh my word, I stood up to three pit bulls. Not one, but three....Wow!

Once I got down the road for a bit, I started to laugh because I was told once that a 2 star General had called me a bulldog in a meeting with other military personnel. He said I was loyal, but would totally stand up to any challenge and that he wouldn't mess with me. I guess we now have proof I am part bulldog and that he was right. Someone should tell him.

Why am I sharing this story? Well because I realized one thing about myself that I am truly proud of. I always wanted to think that in times like that I would put myself in front of others, but I have not been tested like that before. I have faced other threats, but not one like this. Our situation could have gone so many different ways, most of them with tragic consequences. Somehow my brain kicked in and I protected my friend first and then us both. I threw myself out there to be injured first. I proved to myself that I am a good friend.

This realization means a lot to me. I live such a busy life and many times I feel like such a horrible friend because I can't go here or be there for various things. I sincerely try to help as many as I can, but I do fail....a lot. I have even failed the friend that was with me. Although my dearest friends totally understand my crazy life, I still value our friendships and truly get upset when I cannot be there for them. Wednesday I learned that when the challenge does arise I will put my friends first and that is a very valuable lesson to learn about yourself.

****And just a disclaimer.....this is not an anti-pit bull story and please do not interpret it that way. We discovered there were puppies back in the yard where the dogs had originated. The owner had four pit bulls total and only had one restrained. My friend and I were within the dogs turf zone and they were protecting the puppies. This story is proof of an owner's poor judgement in leaving them unsupervised and what can possibly happen. ****

Sunday, September 21, 2014

My Mums

Fall has always been my favorite season. Every year a farming family drives around our neighbor and sells mums off of their trailer. They are bigger than any you can buy on the market and cost significantly less and last three times longer. They always make me smile.

Before Chaz was injured I bought three every year. Chaz knows that for me mums signify Fall is coming and Fall is my favorite season. In 2011 and 2012 we were still in Walter Reed, so no mums for me. 2013 we were traveling, again no mums for me. I really had forgotten all about my favorite mums until yesterday.

I had a very exhausting week this past week. It was full of great things and also bad news. It was a true roller coaster.

We traveled to Maryland so I could work. While I was working Chaz and the girls visited friends. They had a great trip. My trip was a crazy train.

My week ended with me in tears on Friday. Of course Chaz hates that, but the things that occurred were beyond our control. Everything had just built up over the course of the week and Friday's news was the last straw. That straw broke the dam and the tears poured out.

Last week was one of those weeks that started with bad news, a little good news sprinkled in, then more bad, then a little good and this was all in the midst of me working from no kidding 5am to 11pm for a days in a row. When you are super tired and you add crazy to it, something has to give and this week it was my tears.

To say I need a vaca, is an understatement. I am hoping to find some quiet time very soon. But we have so much going on, it will be interesting to see how many days I can actually take off. I grabbed my calendar first thing this morning to see what days I can take off so I can mark them off now.

Yesterday Demetria and I went for a nice 3 mile walk. I just wanted to get out for a few minutes before Cutie #1's birthday party started. When we came back I found these on the front porch.

I was so excited I could have cried, but all my tears had evacuated 24 hours before. My super cute hubby knew he had done a great thing for me, but played it all cool. He's so stinking cute sometimes.

I have always known I caught a great one, but this week I was reminded once again how great he really is. I know I would not have made it through this week without him by my side. I took a picture of the mums to remind me of all of this when he forgets to put his laundry in the basket or does another husband thing that drives wives crazy. ;)

This morning as I sit at the desk I sat at on January 22, 2011 when I got the call that he might not make it, I can't help but thank The Lord for letting me keep him for a while longer. His super sweet actions yesterday were exactly what I needed to start a new week off right. I am one blessed lady for sure!!