Welcoming My Friend “Home” After PTSD

distressed-soldierOver the last few years, one of my close friends did a tour in the Middle East with the Army. We met through a buddy that we both knew, and our friendship just seemed to click. Although we weren’t attached at the hip, there were a lot of activities we did together.

But during his deployment, we lost touch for a while. And when he returned, something seemed to have changed. He was home, but he wasn’t.

Before he left, he was a stocky, average military-looking guy; someone I could always bring by my house. My father was in the Air Force, and my friend was based in the Army camp, and although they fought under the same flag, they were constantly squabbling about all types of military related subjects.

This type of banter was quite humorous and from time to time, you’d hear a quick remark about the Air Force, and vice versa. He was one of those people who made you laugh, and always pointed out something funny, regardless if it had to do with the situation or not. After his deployment, the most noticeable and alarming change I noticed was his physical stature.

He seemed skinnier, malnourished, almost, and methodical about the choice of words he used. It was if one of my closest friends, although home, seemed removed, as if he was miles away.

Activities we would share together were distant and brisk. Someone I cared about now reminded me of someone guarded, not willing to embrace moments that were unfolding in front of us.

I wondered if he could be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I’d never experienced PTSD firsthand, and I’m not a doctor. I come from a military family, and none of my close relatives seemed to show signs of hopelessness or any type of detachment. When I decided to find out more about PTSD indicators and triggers, it started to become clear to me. I wondered if my friend knew something was off, after all, he had even asked me once if my father ever struggled with PTSD.

I could really see the extent of his emotional state when we sat down to play video games – something we always enjoyed doing together. He seemed to be detached from what we were doing; although it was fun enjoying a game together again, he just didn’t seem the same.

As the year passed, we tried to keep in touch as much as possible. Every once in a while, we’d spend time catching up, but there was one night where the flood gates opened. He shared his war stories with me, and some of the things he told me filled me with profound sorrow. Hearing him briefly reflect on what it was like to take a man’s life, a life that was someone’s brother, father, or husband, really resonated with me. I felt a deep sadness for my friend.

I wish I could have helped him more with the struggle he was going through. It wasn’t until recently, while looking at an article I found by a clinical practitioner at the University of New England, that I started to understand some of the things that he was going through. Although the subject matter was a little different, I could finally begin to understand what PTSD does to a person.

I wanted to reach out and help him as much as I could, and I attempted to reach out on multiple occasions. Though we never really talked about his recovery, I know it was his own volition and determination to get better that inevitably saw him through these troubling times. I am proud to have a friend who defended the country I love. Today, he has determination and the support of family and friends, and is, once again, the friend I knew.

The importance of noticing and recognizing the signs and symptoms of PTSD is immeasurable. PTSD can be a silent killer, and our service members deserve the chance to conquer the battles in their mind, just like the battles fought during their service to our country.

Today, I can proudly say my friend is finally home.

nick-richyPosted by Nicholas R., Military dependent of an Air Force Brigadier General

It’s OVER: How MilSpouses Can Provide Financial Stability at the End of a Military Career

family-with-wounded-dadYou are a military spouse. Your soldier, sailor, or airman serves the nation anytime, anywhere, and you stand behind them with pride. When the call comes, you watch the uniformed rows march into the aircraft or ship, heading away for however long the nation requires. And you smile and show support, even though you are worried, and already desperately missing your service member.

With one in five service members now disabled because of combat, injury is always at the forefront on one’s mind. Unfortunately, the chances of injury seem higher than any of us are comfortable with. But there are ways to prepare your family financially, should the unthinkable happen. Even transition and downsizing present a quick ending to what your service member thought would be a long, prosperous career.

As a former Army NCO, who had his career halted by an unexpected medical issue, I think income is the key focus to make sure your family is prepared. If your service member returns with an injury requiring them to stay on active duty for rehab, the impact on your income won’t be significant. However, if the injury results in a medical discharge, the impact can be severe. A sudden discharge can leave service members drawing a disability check that is a fraction of what they had been receiving. Many also may struggle to find new jobs to maintain their income, while they adjust to their ‘new normal’ of life after injury.

Service members transitioning may have to wait months to receive a Veterans Administration rating, or to even receive their first retirement check. Planning ahead for these moments can guarantee your family’s financial success.

This is where military spouses can step in. Educational opportunities exist, not only for military service members, but for military spouses, too! There are many programs, like MyCAA, for example, which provide access to educational funding for military spouses. Did you know the National Military Family Association provides scholarships for spouses, along with many partnerships with colleges, and even programs that offer reduced tuition rates?

The possibility of a PCS brings up concerns for traditional classroom programs. Can you transfer credits? What if you PCS in the middle of a semester? Will your specific degree even be offered in your new location? NMFA’s scholarships can give you the opportunity to engage in a certificate, or degree program, online. With online degrees, PCS moves are no longer a concern. Wherever you go, the school goes with you.

Taking advantage of these opportunities now, rather than later, can put you in a position to be an additional income, should injury, transition, or sudden discharge ever sideline your spouse. Having the option of using a degree or certificate to obtain work while your service member is recovering, or job hunting, can relieve the stress of suddenly having to live off of a significantly reduced income. It lets your spouse focus on recovery, a new career, or adjusting to a post-uniform life, and helps ease the stress your spouse may face feeling like they are letting the family down.

You are a military spouse. You are part of a team. While your service member is away, you maintain the home front. Just as your spouse is expected to engage in military readiness, you have a role in maintaining family readiness. Take advantage of what is available for you. Plan ahead, get educated, and be prepared to take over if transition, injury, or some other unforeseen event knocks on your door.

What do you think are some other things families can do to financially prepare for emergencies?

Posted by James Hinton, Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army Veteran

The Honeymoon. Then the Breakup.

Yellow_FootprintsI am one of those people who always has a smile on my face. I like to make others laugh even if it means pulling off some dorky and embarrassing 1980’s cabbage patch dance move or blurting out a silly slapstick joke. I hate to see anyone sad or hurt, but unfortunately today I have to say that the sad person is me. My heart has been broken.

It all started when the man in the uniform, and all that it stood for, won my heart. Our love blossomed and eventually we made the commitment. Our limited budget afforded us an intimate destination ceremony at the local court which was presided over by a wonderful and monotone must-have-hated-their-job justice of the peace. The ceremony was followed by an amazing dreamlike honeymoon at a quaint little spot called Carl’s Jr (I splurged on the budget and got fries and a diet coke…I know, I shouldn’t have but it was my wedding night!). I felt a little overdressed in my fancy wedding gown which resembled a t-shirt and jeans.

Two weeks later, the military sent my groom on a 6 month ‘break’ to Okinawa Japan. Those breaks seemed to regenerate themselves over and over again, for a grand total of 7 deployments and a few months of training exercises out of our blissful marriage, totaling more than 4 years apart. Through the course of 17 years, we would always re-kindle our love. Spending our moments at the Marine Corps Ball was a highlight for us. We spent a lot of time bonding with other military families at the unit’s mandatory family days and made great memories between moves. And then it happened; after years of loving him he dumped me. The Marine Corps dumped me.

But the one who broke my heart wasn’t my husband. It was the Marine Corps. My husband retired a few months ago after dutifully serving this country for twenty years. He did so without question, sacrificed so much of his time, and as a result I (along with our children) have sacrificed just as much as he has. Don’t get me wrong, we have had our good times, but my heart has been broken by the one thing that I was always supportive of and behind: the military.

Not only have we just figured out that my husband’s pension payment has not come through this month, but we are still awaiting a decision from the Veteran’s Administration (VA) regarding his final rating. This really couldn’t have come at a worse time; bills need to be paid, mouths need to be fed, and we are in the process of purchasing the home we currently live in, and only have a short amount of time left to prove to the lender, and the owners, that we qualify for the loan. If we could just get the VA rating finalized, we’d be over this hurdle.

We left all of our loved ones and moved across country to be able to afford to “live”. My husband is currently a full time student utilizing his GI Bill, and works two part-time jobs. I take care of the children, and work a part-time job while looking for full-time employment. Many of our friends have also been dumped by the Marine Corps. But not many share their story. Some go months before a pension payment is made, and years before a VA rating is approved.

I want to inspire you to act now. Please do yourself a favor and start saving for a rainy day NOW. Go back to college, or start college, and get those degrees NOW. Plan for the future NOW, whether it’s your first year of marriage to the Marine Corps, or your last.

Eventually, the love will be rekindled between the Marine Corps and me, but for now, I’m eating spoonfuls of salty, tear-filled ice cream while watching my favorite chick-flick. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do after a break up?

Has the military broken up with you and your family? How did you deal with it?

Posted by Amy Smith, Marine Corps Spouse

10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Military Spouse

military-weddingMarrying into a big family is a challenge. Marrying into one with over 1 million other ‘family members,’ might have you feeling a tiny bit overwhelmed. Why didn’t anyone tell me about the ‘family drama’ before I took the plunge?

One of my favorite things about being a military spouse is meeting people who are dating service members. It reminds me of the time in my life where I didn’t know what TDY, Haz Pay, or PCS meant. I find inspiration in the gleaming eyes of those newly ‘dating the military’ and just for a moment, I remember why I loved dating (and marrying) a man in uniform.

But I really wish someone would have told me about the family drama.

Maybe if they had, I could have prepared myself. So, let me do you a favor; here are 10 things I wish I knew before becoming a military spouse:

  1. There’s no room for Type-A personalities. The military is the only Type-A allowed. Everyone else should just get used to a ‘go with the flow, hurry up and wait, organized chaos’ approach.
  2. The health care might be free, but it’s not always the best. I’m glad to have TRICARE, and I’m thankful for this form of compensation. But other days, I think I’m better off chewing on a piece of bark and popping some Advil.
  3. You’ll never understand why/how the military works. And for those of us who are Type-A, you’ll have to get over the idea of procedures and office policy making sense. It just doesn’t.
  4. Civilian job environments don’t translate to military ones. On those days when my husband vents about work, my natural inclination is to use a civilian workplace remedy. But it just isn’t as simple as ‘talk to his boss,’ or ‘why don’t you just let someone else do it?’
  5. The military doesn’t care about Christmas, anniversaries, or holidays. All the perks of a big happy family…with no presents.
  6. Some duty assignments are worth it all. Spending three to four years at a terrible duty station totally seems worth it when your next assignment is somewhere amazing.
  7. You’ll toy with the idea of staying in or getting out on a monthly basis. Because man, the grass seems so much greener on the other side. So scary and unpredictable, but probably greener. Right?
  8. Your spouse will give everything, and sometimes, they leave with nothing. Whether it’s proper care after being medically discharged, or separating from the military after serving 10 years, only to spend months searching for a job. Our service members deserve better.
  9. Therapy will help. Because PTSD, depression, anxiety, and anger aren’t just things service members deal with. Don’t be scared to get the help you need.
  10. Making friends can be tough, but no one will know what you’re going through like another military spouse. Embrace the chaos and keep on truckin’.

When it comes down to it, I married the person, not the job. So some days, it’s hard not to be resentful of the ‘family’ behind the job. Being a military spouse has given me more than I’ve given it, and I guess that makes the family drama a bit more bearable.

What do you wish you knew before becoming a military spouse? Is the ‘family drama’ worth it?

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Life After Injury: Can We Go Back to Normal?

veteran-walking-with-daughterThe military changes people, and when that change is physical the adjustment can be especially difficult. When I first met Dave, he used to run to the gym, work out, run back and then ask me if I wanted to walk to dinner. We’d run the trails of Camp Lejeune together, swatting the swamp bugs along the way. He trained me for my first 5K, which was quite a feat since I couldn’t even run a mile when we started. Dave was definitely the fit one, while I was more like a couch potato with the appetite of a truck driver. I even managed to gain 25 pounds within our first 6 months of dating. Hawt, right?

But things changed, thanks to an injury that meant he would have his spine fused. After the surgery, we thought things would go back to normal—and the Marine Corps hoped so too. Unfortunately, the man who used to sprint around town dragging me behind him couldn’t run anymore. Doctors said he shouldn’t put “impact” on his fragile spine, or he might suffer another disc herniation . Passing a PT test wasn’t going to happen and, shortly after that, we separated from the Marine Corps.

The change came with lots of unsolicited fitness advice: “You should try swimming. That’s low impact.” Or “The elliptical is great!” and “Walking burns the same amount of calories as running if you do the same distance.” Um, thanks?

Seven years later, we are still adjusting. With the military far away in our rear view mirror, the changes are still right in front of us. Dave still can’t do the types of physical activities he enjoys most—although he does attempt them every so often. I’ve kept up with my running, for the most part, although I do often feel guilty enjoying an activity that we used to do together. If you ask him, he’ll tell you that he is lucky: “Don’t worry about me – I have all my limbs, and can lead a normal life – there are people much worse-off.” Ah perspective….

That’s why our Operation Purple Healing Adventures® has always been one of my favorite things we do at our Association. Service members, with much more serious injuries than Dave’s, attend camp with their families and try to adjust to a “new normal.” A dad, whose main activity with their kids was sports, sometimes can’t even walk.

I remember watching a double amputee try to discipline his 4 year old, while the kid ran away from him. He was no match for a fully-functioning child. I couldn’t decide whether trying to help would make it worse, so I looked away and let them handle it together as a family.

Those dealing with PTSD seemed to have an even harder time. Their families had to make adjustments about where they sat and even how loudly they spoke.

I am proud that we are able to bring wounded families to our Operation Purple Healing Adventures. Over a decade of war has taken a vicious toll on them, and these families deserve everything we can give—whether it’s help with the next phase of their lives, beginning their healing process as a family, or even to just giving them a few moments of joy.

Have you ever had to adjust your activities because of an injury? How did it go?

Besa-PinchottiPosted by Besa Pinchotti, Communications Director

Does Pinterest Help or Hurt When Trying to Get Healthy?

yogaI consider the whole month of January to be “Resolution Season.” I didn’t make any real resolutions this year, but I did sign-up to run my first half-marathon with some co-workers in a few months.

Signing up for the half marathon made me think about my exercise habits. And my eating habits. I’ve always loved exercise and eating healthy foods, but work and life get in the way sometimes, and I end up falling off the wagon.

So, to stay on track, I immediately thought of Pinterest. I’ve used it here and there over the years, mostly when I feel inspired to get fit. I use it for workout ideas, recipe ideas, and my new favorite, weekly meal planning. But, does Pinterest actually help? Here are my thoughts:

Help #1: FRESH IDEAS
My favorite thing about Pinterest is there’s always something new and exciting when it comes to cooking; ideas I would have never thought of, or quick and easy ways to make things. I use the search bar to list things I already have at home to see what fun new dish I can make for dinner.

Hurt #1: FAR- FETCHED
The problem with Pinterest is all the elaborate ideas made to seem easy, but are actually ridiculous. There’s no way I could create that project, or recipe at home without breaking the bank.

SOLUTION: Find boards to follow that are realistic. I like to follow a friend of mine, who only pins things she has tried to make herself. It brings reality back to Pinterest and makes you feel better for not being able to make that fancy dessert. No #PinterestFail here.

Help #2: INSPIRATION
Sure, there are plenty of unrealistic pictures of models claiming they workout, but there are also a lot of real-life inspiration stories and workouts that you can find on Pinterest. Scrolling through those pins helps make me feel like I can reach my goals and feel better overall. There are workouts for busy moms, students, yoga in the workplace…you name it! Find the ones that are right for you.

Hurt #2: GUILT
The worst part of Pinterest is the feeling of guilt that washes over you when you don’t have time to cook that fabulous meal, or workout 15 hours a day to look like those unrealistic, Photoshopped models.

SOLUTION: Pick 1 or 2 pins you really want to achieve. Whether it’s a week-long ab challenge, or one nice meal you really want to tackle over the weekend. By avoiding the feeling that you must overdo it, Pinterest will become more of a friend rather than a foe.

Does Pinterest help you reach your health and wellness goals? If so, share your tips with me in the comments!

Jordan-BarrishPosted by Jordan Barrish, Public Relations Manager

Giving Up Control in 2015: My “Let It Go” List

woman-standing-in-the-snowEvery year in December, I lock myself in our bedroom, with a never ending pile of presents and a glass of wine, and overindulge in Hallmark Christmas movies. I stay in that room until every present is wrapped. Don’t ask me why I insist on doing it all at once; somehow, over the years, it’s become a tradition. While wrapping, I reflect on the previous year and look ahead to the upcoming year.

Normally, I’m excited about a new calendar, but this year was different. When I envisioned the year ahead, my chest was tight, I was sweating, and I even felt short of breath. Why? What on earth was happening this next year to stress me out? The answer is simple: I’m wasting energy on guilt, worry, mistakes, and perfection.

So, in the name of our Frozen, winter-loving Elsa, I’ve created a list of five things I’m saying “Let It Go” to in 2015:

GUILT. I have an incredibly powerful guilt complex. I feel guilty for everything. Not making it to one of my kids’ holiday parties, leaving the family at home to go have dinner with a friend, the list goes on and on. Starting a Master’s program, or at least figuring out my plan to get a Master’s, is on my 2015 to-do list—but all the guilt has been holding me back. Can I handle it all? Will I be able to make enough time for my husband and kids? Will my work suffer? Then there’s the immense guilt about putting so much time and effort into something that’s only for me. ALL of this may happen, but it’s a calculated risk my family and I are willing to take. I need to let it go, enjoy the journey, and not look back.

WORRY. I worry about everything – a problem made worse by my role as military spouse. Will my husband get orders to deploy? Will we end up PCSing sooner than expected? Will his year group meet the Reduction in Force board again? These are all things I have absolutely NO control over. So, instead of worrying – you guessed it – I just need to let it go! Make the most of where we are now and tackle each day, one at a time. And if any of these scenarios do happen, I’ll be flexible because we all know change is inevitable in our military life.

MISTAKES. Confession: I am going to make mistakes. The people around me are also going to make mistakes. We’ll forgive and move on. I’m registered for a half marathon, and have my training and diet plan in place. Will I miss a run or two? Will I enjoy dessert or a dinner out? ABSOLUTELY! And everything is going to be fine! Let it go! Life doesn’t have to be perfect.

EXPECTATIONS. Say no, and accept when others say no. It’s OKAY! It’s also okay to say it without a laundry list of reasons why you had to say no. When I say no to something, I won’t worry about others’ expectations. I will accept my decision, embrace it, and (of course) let it go!

ATTITUDES. I tend to allow others’ attitudes affect my own personal happiness, but do you know what? Only I can control my emotions. I shouldn’t let others have such power over my well-being. This year, I won’t over-analyze every decision, and I won’t internalize other people’s displeasure. There’s no reason to! None! Say it with me…I need to let it go.

Will you channel your inner Elsa in 2015 and just let it go? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Lyndy-RohePosted by Lyndy Rohe, Communications Assistant