DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
The urge to serve one’s country is not something everyone experiences, and only a select few step up to the challenge. It’s a life altering decision, and I was so happy to raise my right hand and say, “I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
I was working a full-time job and going to school, but I knew it wasn’t enough to satisfy my yearning of wanting to be a part of something bigger than myself. I dedicated my life to the Air Force in August 2008. Although I hadn’t received a job, or a date to leave, I was on top of the world.
I left for basic training March 3, 2009, attended technical training at Ft. George Meade, Md., and then arrived at Dyess for my first duty station in August 2009. I absolutely loved my job and everything was going great, until I got sick.
In the fall of 2010, I was sick with strep throat almost every month and my allergies were out of control. After a couple of weeks of not being able to lay down and sleep because I coughed so much and had trouble breathing, my primary care physician told me I had asthma. I advised him that I grew up playing being very active in sports and never had asthma, but he insisted and sent me to a pulmonologist in downtown Abilene.
During my appointment, the pulmonologist walked in the room, asked about my symptoms, listened to my heart and lungs and said, “Yes, you do have asthma.”
I told her I didn’t agree and asked if there was something else we could do to figure out what was going on with me. She referred me to Hendricks Hospital to complete a methacholine challenge test.
This test checks lung functions and the reaction of a person’s airways. You have to inhale six different vials and then blow in a machine after each one, to ensure the medicine in each vial does not affect the lungs. I took every vial and blew over 90 percent on each test, but due to my lung function dropping a couple of points on the very last one I was told it’s a sign of asthma.
After my PCM received the results, he told me I would have to go through the Medical Evaluation Board process, and it would be up to them whether or not to keep me in the Air Force or place me on the Temporary Disability Retired List due to my condition. He sent my package to the MEB office in December 2010 and by February 2011 I had a retirement date of May 25, 2011. I had only served for 2 years, 2 months and 22 days.
When someone is medically separated, they are re-evaluated every 12-18 months to see if their condition has worsened or improved. I attended my appointment in September 2012, and the doctor went through my entire medical file and said I was initially sent to take the test when I had strep throat and that is why my results were positive for asthma. He then conducted another challenge test, and I passed with an overall 98 percent lung function.
I was so excited and ready to take the next step to become an active duty Airman again until I received a letter in the mail a couple of weeks later from Air Force Personnel Center stating that my condition has remained the same and they wanted to keep me on medical retirement. That is when I chose to go in front of the board and fight to get back in the service.
I received orders and the name of my lawyer at Lackland Air Force Base,Texas. I arrived there two days before my hearing took place to meet with my lawyer. While there, I was given my entire medical record, to include e-mails and other paperwork I had not previously been aware of. I found out AFPC emailed my doctor at Lackland and told him they did not need his evaluation on me, but gave no reason why, so they had no idea I had been misdiagnosed.
After showing this information to my lawyer, and telling her what took place at my evaluation, she sent me to my doctor for the paperwork proving I no longer had asthma. Once she read over the paperwork, she said I had a very tough decision to make. I had all the proof that I didn’t have asthma, but the board can still decide not to return me to duty and take away all the benefits I was receiving for being discharged, even though I was misdiagnosed.
I was sent back to the hotel to think about what I wanted, and I spent almost an hour in my car crying because I couldn’t understand how they could medically retire me when there is proof my physician misdiagnosed me and sent me to take a test when I was already sick. The notion that they could still say you can’t serve, and we aren’t giving you benefits although we made the mistake was unimaginable.
I called my lawyer and told her I still wanted to face the board and show them all the paperwork. She reminded me there is a less than one percent chance they will side with me, but explained I should write a rebuttal explaining to the board what happened and why I should be brought back to serve on active duty.
While nervous but ready to tell my story, I met with her the following morning at 8 a.m. She pulled me in to her office and said she had some news. I knew something was going on because she wasn’t wearing her blues uniform. She said the board cancelled my hearing after looking over my paperwork, because they didn’t find it necessary to have one and had already made their decision. My heart sank… she then proceeded to tell me they decided to return me back to active duty.
Everything I had done to fight to get a correct diagnosis, tell my story and get back on active duty was worth it! She, along with many of her colleagues, congratulated me because it was such a rare thing to see happen when Airmen are medically retired.
I re-enlisted January 28, 2013 and received orders back to Dyess.
This is what I have always wanted to do and I wasn’t going to let anything stop me. During my journey, I realized I should never be scared to fight for what I believe is right, especially when it comes to my career.
Serving in the military is not just another job, it’s a way of life. Don’t ever take your service for granted because it can be taken away from you in a blink of an eye, and you’ll be completely lost at what to do. If you aren’t willing to fight, then have you made the right decision to serve?
Although it was hard, I remained resilient in my fight to serve again, and it was worth it!