The Christmas tree is already up in Shari and Mike Johnson’s home. Their hope is that this Thanksgiving, it will help ease some of their pain.
Both are nurses. Both went to war. And both are diagnosed with PTSD -- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The current battle they are fighting deals with what is called incap or incapacitation pay, a sort of military workman's compensation, awarded to soldiers who are harmed in the line of duty and unable to work.
"Little bitty things just get on your nerves and you cannot deal with that," Johnson explained from his farmhouse near Sheldon, Ill. "Not all wounds are visible."
As a sergeant in the Army Reserves, Johnson mustered out in 1991 for Desert Storm and later to serve in Afghanistan after 9/11.
So did Major Shari Johnson.
"I have poor concentration," she said. "I can’t do my normal job."
The couple met and married as they were training to be Army nurses. Today they live on a farm with chickens, goats and horses, south of Kankakee.
Yet the war, as a result of PTSD, still rages within their minds.
"I can see it," Shari Johnson said as tears rolled down her face. "I can hear it. I’m there again."
It's painful for her husband to witness.
"I can see for Shari she doesn’t sleep well at night at all," Mike Johnson, who is himself on permanent disability. "She wakes up screaming at times."
As an Intensive Care Unit nurse, Shari Johnson said that among other things, she cared for young children who had been placed in boiling water by the Taliban in order to get their parents to cooperate.
Now she said she is no longer able care for others.
In an attempt to care for herself, she takes medication for depression. Still the memories never leave.
And so this past February, she checked into the VA Medical Center of North Chicago for treatment and filed for incapacitation pay. But payment for March, April and May didn’t arrive, the couple says, until June, causing a financial burden.
"It is a lot of stress on Shari to know that, you know what, we can’t get groceries today," Mike Johnson said. "I talk to veterans every day that, that go through the same thing."
He said the Army doesn't coordinate paperwork with the VA, creating a bureaucratic nightmare.
A spokesman for the Veterans Administration said there are active discussions on how to seamlessly move records back and forth between the VA and the military to prevent these kinds of problems.
A spokesperson for the Army Reserve says two officers are assigned to work with claims like the Johnson's, and that there are new automated procedures to make the process timely.
Still, the Johnsons say they are still waiting for the incapacitation pay for June, July, August and September.
And yet, ask if they would return to the battlefield and Shari and Mike Johnson’s response is unequivocal.
"Every veteran I know, no matter, how old," he said, "would do that. We love our country."