Christopher Cranmer spent nearly half of his seven years in the Marine Corps deployed—primarily to Iraq and one tour to Afghanistan. “I was in the Infantry so I was around everything—firefights, IEDs.” he recalled. As a result of injuries sustained while on active duty, Chris suffers with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a traumatic brain injury (TBI), and is blind in his right eye.
“I had surgery after my last deployment but planned to stay in the Marine Corps,” Chris explained. “Then, when I went before the medical review board, they offered me an honorable discharge with medical issues and 10% severance pay. I refused it, but a couple of days later they said I was discharged anyway.” That was in 2009, and just the beginning of Chris’ struggle to claim the military and veteran benefits he’d earned.
In 2016, Chris’ wife, Cathy, attended a caregivers’ dinner, where she learned about the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society’s Combat Casualty Assistance Visiting Nurse (CCA VN) program. “They told me to fill out an online application, which I did. Chris got a phone call the next day stating that we were approved and arranged for us to meet with a Society visiting nurse,” Cathy explained.
“Within 24 hours of Cathy submitting the application, Yani Dilag, NMCRS CCA VN, called and interviewed me and, within 48 hours, he was at our house,” said Chris. “Yani immediately started helping me get medical appointments since I’d been running into dead ends. He also got me enrolled in a TBI clinic.”
Chris had heard about the Society while on active duty and knew it was a place young Marines could go to get loans to pay for unexpected expenses. “That’s all I knew,” he said. “But when I met Yani, I found out about the NMCRS visiting nurse program. Yani went out of his way and did the best he could to get answers for us. He was a great help for Cathy, who’d been trying to take care of everything by herself.”
“I ensured he took his medications and made his VA appointments,” Cathy said. “I filed all his claims. I was able to get his disability rating revised from 30% to 70% compensation. I worked at it and never stopped. I fought to get him medical appointments. But there’s only so much you can do by yourself. Once we found Yani, I had help. Yani was able to push farther where I couldn’t. He arranged for medical records to be released. He reviewed our records and was able to get some denials of care reversed. He pushed doctors and got information we couldn’t get. He read and understood medical documents that we couldn’t understand or know what we needed to be looking for. He knew what we needed. For example, Yani discovered in inaccuracy in Chris’s discharge documents which stated that Chris’s blindness was the result of a disease. Yani helped us submit the documentation that clearly stated his blindness was a result of an injury while on active duty. Yani got Chris into physical therapy, which was also something the doctors wouldn’t prescribe before.”
Because of his combat-related injuries, Chris hasn’t been able to work, so the family, which includes a nine-year-old, a seven-year-old, and a toddler, were struggling financially. Cathy was Chris’ full-time caregiver. “When we were at our lowest point, we were literally living off just his retirement pay check for almost a whole year,” Cathy recalled. “We had nothing. We paid our bills but had no money left for food. NMCRS gave us gas card. Yani found an organization that donated free bread to people who needed help. He found a local church that helped us. He contacted a local food bank that helped us. It was really the lowest point in our lives.”
When Cathy’s father and brother offered Chris an electrician job with their company in Alabama, the family hesitated about leaving Jacksonville, North Carolina, where they had lived for so long. “It was a big move, but it was too much of a struggle to stay. We needed income to help us raise three kids.”
After the move, Yani introduced Cathy and Chris to NMCRS CCA VN Arbutus Mullins, who is based in Florida but also covers Alabama. “We haven’t met her yet, but if we need to call her we know she’ll be right there,” Cathy said. “I have a lot of faith in NMCRS visiting nurses, they’re phenomenal.”
While Cathy feels like her efforts to get her husband the comprehensive medical care he requires will be ongoing, she is grateful for the significant support she’s received from the Society. “Working with Yani was kind of like having a new best friend. Yes, it was a professional friendship, but he was phenomenal. He did his job better than anyone I’ve ever known.”
Thanks to donors who support Yani Dilag and the NMCRS Combat Casualty Assistance Visiting Nurse program, this USMC family has a new future.
By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso