The Heartbreak of “Not Fit for Duty”


We’ve been living with my husband’s (who I’ll call Doc to protect his identity) TBI for three years now. We spent more time than we should have hoping he would just get better. He sought out treatment whenever he could, he was even turned away from one on post TBI clinic because the doctor there had “seen worse”. Years passed before he was finally able to get some real answers from people wanting the best for him. This past fall he spent a month at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) center at Walter Reed where got amazing care … but also got their recommendation:

Not fit for duty.

Those words were like a dagger to the heart. Now what? My husband who was once one of the elite, a medic with 2nd Ranger Battalion, was now being told that he couldn’t even go back to his current job of covering drop zones for the Free Fall School.

In the next 45 days or so we expect to hear the army’s first offer on Doc’s disability rating. At least that’s what we think — this process is crazy confusing.

I say “first offer” because this process seems a lot like a negotiation. “What can you do, how well can you do it, are you sure you can’t do that…?” Perhaps it’s the brain injury talking, but he feels like people are talking in circles around him waiting for him to slip up. I have been left out of most of the process because he has to drive 5.5 hours, each way, for every meeting and doctor’s appointment. Our local station does not have the medical resources to handle the med-board process. I hate that my brain injured insomniac husband has to drive so much alone, but having two girls under three at home makes joining him impossible.

From here we move home, back home. And that has always been the plan, but it wasn’t supposed to happen until at least 2025, after his 20 years. We were supposed to be settled and old.

Moving home is terrifying. Doc and my family haven’t always seen eye to eye, and after seven years of marriage my family doesn’t really know him. We’ve appreciated not having family around to butt into our marriage. We miss them but we have enjoyed the distance.

When we get home, then what?  Doc can’t work, at least not right now. He was told that he will need to spend most of his days in different therapies: occupational, physical, emotional.

In my past life I worked in marketing but I haven’t work since January 2010, this is not the economy to have a big resume gap. And the girls? Daycare is expensive and they have never been away from me.

This was not the plan. He was supposed to get his 20 years to do his thing, then I would get my 20 to do mine. But he got injured and now the rest of our lives are going to revolve around him. It’s a hard pill to swallow.

These are the things that I am not supposed to say out loud, I know how selfish it sounds.

The most heartbreaking thing is that our girls, three and one-years-old, will never know their father as he once was.He is a good father, but he’s not the father he would have been.  He calls himself broken. And that is all they will ever know — a broken father.

These days he’s lucky to get four hours of sleep a night. I am doing the parenting alone for the most part. I joke that he’s my third kid. Somedays I can ask for help but for the most part if he spends an hour playing with them I feel lucky.

Our 3-year-old, TC, is starting to notice that things aren’t always right. When Doc and I are tense, she is tense. You always hear that a little girl wants to marry a guy like their father, and that really scares me. I love Doc but if this is how he was when we started dating we wouldn’t have lasted long. I want the girls to find partners in life, I don’t want them to have to struggle the way I do. How do I tell them this?

There are a lot of unknowns in our future. But now we wait. We wait, wait, wait. I am about to burst. I want to get out of this place. I just want to get on with it. This was not the plan. And now all we can do is wait for a new plan to arrive.

Editor’s note: Can you suggest some resources that may help Amber with her struggle?


Amber is a 32 year old mother of two and has been an army wife for seven years. A New England girl and avid sports fan, she has genuinely loved her time as an Army wife and is looking forward to getting back home to see what life has to offer back in the civilian world (and some Fenway Franks). You can read about her journey with Doc’s TBI, her girls, and whatever else pops in her head over at Random Rants of an Army Wife.

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    am in the same position and Also had a brain injury it took some rehabilitation and a lot more focus and harder time concentrating. Have two girls as well 4 and 6 year old and 7 years married i had american legion and disabled american veterans organizations step in along with my dad pushing me the whole way since i was in denial ” that i was ok! ” things got better switched field of occupation to law enforcement / SECURITY RECEIVING VA COMP WHICH WAS ASSISTED BY VA LAWYER THANKS to my dad again and also moved to florida now 10 years later have a job, house bought with va loan back in march 2012 and 2 beautiful girls 4 and 6. Things are a little tight sometimes with only me working but we make due best as we can with God’s help! Hope that this gives

    • Smitty
  • armywife2008

    Dang. That sounds like a hard situation. My only recommendation is to remember that things always get better. Your husband WILL get better. Maybe not all better, but better than he is now. That’s the reason for all the therapies, right? And as far as moving home, move where you have the most support. If that’s home, great. If not, that’s okay too. And if you do move home, you’ll have help with kids if you go back to work, or go back to school, work part-time, whatever. I really feel for you, it sounds like a sucky situation. Keep your chin up and remember that you have an entire Army family behind you. Even if you aren’t active duty Army, you’re still one of us! God bless.

  • Sonja

    If you haven’t already contacted this group of people I suggest you do. They provide help in the form of therapy and support for both spouse and member. under that umbrella is Her War, Her Voice. They are the best group of people. Wishing you and your family the best.

  • Paxton

    If he doesn’t get along with his family now they will not undrstand his TBI. My husband was catastrophically wounded in 2003 and we made the mistake if moving away from a military post. We lost our support system. In October if 2013, military retires living more than (I believe) over 50 miles from a Murray post will no longer be allowed to have Tricare Prime – another thing to consider. Does the VA in your home town area have a TBI program and if not are there civilian docs in there area that treat TBI? More things to consider. You may want to stay put where you are for a year or so and think on these things. For us, moving away from a post was a bad thing and now we own out home outright and are struggling with not wanting to sell it (it is his family home and over 100 years old) but wanting to move near a military post that is close to our previous VA which was outstanding.
    Make sure ya’ll switch SGLI to VGLI and that you keep up the payments on SBP. (If he waives retirement pay for VA compensation the payments no longer come out automatically.) Enroll in retiree dental right away to avoid the 12 month waiting period for certain services.
    And if I think of anything more that were mis steps that we took I’ll come back and add them.

    • Smitty
  • Hi, it’s Amber. Thank you for all of the resources and suggestions, I will be sure to check them all out. What is really hard about this all is knowing how lucky we are, he’s lost so many friends and had others come home with horrible injuries, I know his accident could have been much worse. When I am having really bad days I remind myself how lucky we are, so please know that I am so thankful.

    We are moving home mostly for me, I need to support that my family and friends back there can give. I need the trusted babysitters and the occasional girls night out. We will be about 40 minutes outside of Boston where there is amazing research/treatment on brain injuries happening. Doc’s been talking to an extended family member who is in a leadership position at the VA back there too, with that and the help of the amazing Care Coalition we hope to be some of the lucky ones.

    Again, thank you so much for all the kind words, I can’t tell you how nervous I was about writing this. And please, if you have suggestions or just want to share your similar stories please do so. We are all in this together.

    • Somehow you are right and I also feel bad when I lose someone in my life because then your life move into trouble. No one help you and ask about your life.

  • cds

    There is a bit of “negotiation” possible. If it’s run the same way the Air Force handles MEBs, he’ll have a couple opportunities to contest the findings. But it is complicated, and you run the risk of the benefits, such as disability ratings, offered with the first result being reduced.

    It was nerve wracking for me when I went through, as well. I’m an Air Force Security Forces (MP equivalent) officer. A path usually pursued when Uncle Sam gives us our walking papers is to give civilian law enforcement a try. But if I was messed up so badly the Air Force wouldn’t keep me, how could I expect a civilian agency to want me?

    Something that helped me was to develop various contingencies, to include varius ways to use my GI bill, new career paths to explore, and the like. I found that doing this not only prepared me for the possibility of being medically retired or separted, but it also gave me HOPE. Having plans like that available made the future less intimidating. (Plus, it avoided having to come up with alternatives at a later time when I might not be making a paycheck.)