Category Archives: Military Families

PTSD is No Excuse for Abuse

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month is full of images and stats about struggling service members. They can’t sleep because they keep reliving their experiences on the battlefield. They’re distracted. They’re agitated. On edge. All with good reason.

But you know what there’s no good reason for? Excusing abuse because someone has PTSD. I’ve worked with domestic violence from both sides for decades, and victims often downplay the seriousness of domestic violence because their service member loved one has PTSD. I’ve heard it from clients, and from my own military spouse friends, many of whom have given me permission to share their stories anonymously to help others.

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“I’ve been taking care of my husband, and I’m happy to do it. But, his anger…he gets angry at the slightest mistakes,” one military spouse told me. “My kids and I are anxious all the time. He is punching things, screaming at us. We love him, so we stay. We endure. I will always be there, but its taking a devastating toll. My health is suffering, and the kids are too.”

If someone is aggressive towards others, or themselves, after a traumatic situation, it’s a warning sign—a symptom something is seriously wrong. But many military spouses hide in the shadows, taking on the abuse as a responsibility–their contribution to the military family.

This is not okay. There are important differences between symptoms of PTSD versus abuse. There is a line.

“You know, it was supporting my husband. It was supporting a war hero. I thought, ‘well, this is my job, you know?’ He went and did his job, and this is mine.”

So what can be done? It’s a delicate situation. The service member needs to decide if they’re willing to receive, and actively participate in, treatment for PTSD.

PTSD is not an excuse for violence against oneself or another.

It is a medical condition as a result of a traumatic experience, and should be addressed as such.

“When you hide it, it makes it hard for people to believe that it happened, and then it makes you stay in that abusive relationship because you want everybody to think your life is perfect.”

Many in the military community are afraid to speak out, either because of fear of retaliation from their abuser, or because they don’t want to be labeled a victim. They’re scared of losing their significant other, worried about money, worried about how this could all impact their service member’s career or security clearance. And then there’s the love and worry for the abuser. Their spouse who they know has been through so much.

No Excuse for Abuse

We don’t want to blame the person struggling with mental illness, but we also don’t want to perpetuate a negative view of mental illness. This is important. Remember this one thing:

Abuse is abuse. Don’t be afraid to call it what it is.

And don’t be afraid to get help. The good news is, social support—especially for the spouse—may counteract or reduce some of the symptoms of PTSD. Also, with support and treatment, people do get better. 

On one side, you have military and veteran families suffering in silence. Living in a difficult reality. Trying to hold it together. Walking on egg shells. Dealing with isolation. Suffering with low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and secondary traumatic stress. Wanting life to be normal. Supporting their spouse and fearing the moments when they are not themselves.

On the other side are tens (maybe hundreds?) of thousands of service members and veterans who live with PTSD, and are never violent toward anyone. In fact, the violence is often turned inwards against themselves.

Does PTSD cause violence? There is a link. But not everyone with PTSD is violent, and not everyone who is violent has PTSD.

We don’t know what the numbers are, but even it’s infrequent—which I suspect isn’t the case—these spouses who suffer in silence deserve our attention. Especially given the devastating, sometimes fatal, damage of abuse in the home.

This is the second post in our 5-part series on PTSD in military families. Read our first post, and follow along next week, where we’ll explore service member guilt and how they cope with the effects of PTSD on their family.

ingridPosted by Ingrid Herrera-Yee, PhD, Project Manager, Military Spouse Mental Health Profession Pipeline

“After War:” Military Kid Produces Film About Father’s PTSD

“He went from this stud, athlete, awesome dad to barely human because he was so whacked out of his mind.”

Bailey Francisco is very matter-of-fact as he talks about his dad’s battle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and how it ripped their family apart.

“It didn’t even feel like I had a dad during those years. He was just so out of it all the time.”

Bailey recounts his experience in a short documentary, which he produced through the Colorado Youth Film Institute. The film is called “After War” and chronicles his dad’s four deployments in a short time frame. Bailey’s dad turned violent and paranoid, eventually abusing pain medication and alcohol and turning into someone Bailey no longer knew.

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Unfortunately, Bailey’s story is all too familiar for military families. The film begins with this statistic:

80,000 veterans in Colorado suffer from PTSD.

“It’s incredibly common,” Bailey said when he stopped by to talk to the National Military Family Association about his film. “Colorado Springs is a big military town. Friends I’ve had since 4th grade came up to me and said they had the same story. They’d say ‘hey, my dad was an alcoholic because of PTSD, too.’”

39% of those who live with a veteran struggling with PTSD will develop Secondary PTSD (also known as STS, or Secondary Traumatic Stress).

Bailey doesn’t specifically go into STS in his documentary, but the stress clearly took over his childhood.

“90% of my thoughts were about my dad.”

When the domestic violence escalated, the path to divorce began for Bailey’s parents.

“I feel like it made my mom and I closer because we talked about everything going on. She’s very strong,” he said.

Bailey remembers attending NMFA’s Operation Purple Camp in 2006 and 2007—two weeks of fun with other military kids like him during a dark time in his military family life.

“Kids are protecting parents and parents are protecting kids. And they don’t always realize that about each other,” NMFA Executive Director, Joyce Raezer, explained. “It takes longer for military kids to get into the swing of things. They’re more homesick than others because they’re worried about mom at home.”

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That was definitely the case for Bailey. “Once my parents got a divorce, we had no money. No support from the military or anybody. Mom working a part time job. She hadn’t worked since they’d gotten married. Mom started by volunteering, and we were below the poverty line.”

NMFA hears stories like this far too often, although even once is too many. That’s why we believe it is so important to provide the best possible services to our service members and their families. Adolescence is trying in even the best circumstances; Bailey showed us that adding PTSD to the mix makes it even harder. That’s part of why NMFA has redoubled our efforts on mental health support.

Hearing Bailey speak, it is obvious that he is a survivor. Bailey just finished his freshman year of college and has all the confidence and swag of a military kid who has survived—and thrived. For more on Bailey’s relationship with his dad today, you might want to watch the 10-minute documentary. Don’t forget the Kleenex.

**This is the first blog post in our 5 part series on PTSD and military families in honor of PTSD Awareness Month. We’ll publish a new post each Friday. Next we’ll we’ll tackle PTSD and domestic abuse. Do military spouses give their service members a pass to mistreat them because they have PTSD? To make sure you don’t miss this and other posts, sign up for our blog emails.**

besa_2016Posted by Besa Pinchotti, Communications Director

5 Things Your Service Member Needs From You

I met my husband when we were both active duty. Being a former Marine, I recognize that in most situations, I have it a little easier because I understand my spouse’s daily life.

These are some important things we all need to understand in order to support our spouses, and remove unnecessary stress from our marriages.

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Complain less, listen more
Even though they go to a job each day, the military is not a normal job. In most instances, your spouse will have several people to answer to and may not feel like they are heard or listened to at all. The hours are long with no set release time and planning around duty can be difficult.

What can you do about this? Just support them. Be there to listen, and don’t complain about a situation that they couldn’t change…believe me, there will be a lot of those. Adding stress to your spouse’s life by complaining does not help either of you.

Your spouse’s battles are not your battles
I have a hard time with this because I like to take action, but if someone disrespects my husband (and he tells me about it at home), that is not my battle to fight. Nor is it my business to bring it up to the spouse of the person with whom my husband is having a conflict. Helllooooo, drama!

There may be many times you want to give someone a piece of your mind, but that will only cause more conflict in the workplace for your spouse.

The better approach is to talk through the situation together, even if you can’t come to a solution. Sometimes getting your point of view and support will help your spouse navigate the personalities they come in contact with each day.

The more you know about your branch, the better
Your spouse could never explain everything to you about how things work in the military. The more you can educate yourself about the rank system and history of your branch, what your spouse went through in basic training, and how your spouse’s job fits into the big picture of their unit, the more relaxed you will be.

If your spouse talks about some kind of training or work event that you are unfamiliar with, ask them to explain. They will enjoy the chance to show what they know and like bringing you into the fold.

The day you remember something specific about their job, they will do a double take and be impressed because they probably feel like they are always talking at the wind!

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Decompression time
Otherwise known as alone time. If I could be stuck to my husband 24/7 I would, but he needs his own decompression time. I know spouses whose husbands get their alone time in at the gym, or tinkering in the garage, or playing video games.

Whatever the case, your spouse needs daily time to themselves to just be a person – not a military member, not a spouse – just a person.

Reassure them there is life outside the military
When my spouse works 12-14 hours a day all week, then we go to the commissary on the weekend, and just chill around the house in our downtime, to him there is nothing outside the military in this scenario. Work. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. 

Having been in the military myself, I know this is so important, especially in the beginning years of their career. Military life can be a bubble, but you need to break out of it for sanity’s sake.

It can be something simple like taking a daily walk to talk and relax. Or planning a trip together – even if this trip is to a public park in the next town over.

No one is going to tell you this life is easy, but the more you can try to understand what your spouse needs and feels due to the nature of his/her job, the less complicated and stressed your military family will be!

What tips would you give another military spouse? Share them in the comments!

RileyVheadshotPosted by Vera Riley, Marine Corps spouse and fitness and lifestyle blogger at The Noble Big Sister

Want to Win a Free Photo Session for Your MilFam?

May is Military Appreciation Month, and at NMFA, we believe that includes military families, too! You sacrifice daily to support and stand behind the uniform–something many others couldn’t do.

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To thank you and honor you during Military Appreciation Month, NMFA is bringing back our popular Military Family Photography Contest! Enter to win your family a free photo session with a talented, hand-picked military spouse photographer in an area near you. We’ve got photographers near and far, and entering is as easy as a few clicks!

Military life moves quickly, and sometimes the perfect moment for a family photographer is hard to get. We think your family deserves photos to cherish, and we found some amazing military spouse photographers who are volunteering to share their time and talents to capture a special moment in time.

Enter to win a free photo session!

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

Where are You From? Hometown: EVERYWHERE!

Growing up as a military kid, I sometimes puzzled over the question “Where are you from?” I never struggled to answer, but maybe that’s because I had a lot of possible answers. And yet, I never envied the kids that had just one answer. I still don’t envy those kids…and here’s why:

My father was a career soldier–first as an Army aviator, and then later with the Corps of Engineers. It was a path that took him, and our family, to places as far and wide as Germany, Virginia, Japan, Iowa, South Korea, Kansas, South Dakota, and Maryland. Along the way, we vacationed in Savannah, Georgia–my parents’ hometown. My folks later explained that they figured that we needed a hometown, too.

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Growing up, South Dakota was the place that we called home the longest. My father taught ROTC at South Dakota Tech, in the small Black Hills town of Rapid City, for three years. I’m sure my siblings would agree that we found ourselves more at home in Rapid City than at any other place, including Savannah. There were awesome winter sports, the place was obsessed with baseball (just like I was), there was a strong sense of community, and the city was genuinely welcoming to outsiders.

Of course, it was all temporary, and our next move was to be to South Korea, a place that I’d never even heard of (hey, I was only seven). My folks sold me on the move, as military parents often do, this time by telling me that bicycles were very cheap in Korea.

My older brother and sister were teenagers, so they weren’t as excited about bikes, and they weren’t excited about leaving their friends, either. As we drove through Wyoming on the way to drop off our car for shipment to Korea, there was no shortage of tears. But things got brighter as we made our way further west, and there was building optimism and excitement as we reached the coast.

We arrived in Seoul in the middle of summer, before school started, so it took a little while to get connected. Our household goods (and my toys) seemed to take a long time to arrive, but I guess time is on a different measure when you are a kid. We all managed to find new friends at our new post, as we always had. And sure enough, I was tooling around Yongsan on my new bike in no time (never mind that we got it at the PX for probably the same price that we would have paid in the states).

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Occasionally, I’m asked if growing up as a military brat was hard, if I missed having a true hometown. I respond that “hard” isn’t the word I would choose. Looking back, it was an incredible opportunity, and I experienced things that have changed me forever, and for the better. In just a single two-year slice of time in Korea, I became familiar enough with a new language to pick a soccer team with kids that spoke no English (kids just like me, I learned, except from a different country), I bargained with local shopkeepers over important things like chewing gum and yo-yos, I took field trips to 1,500-year-old temples, and I watched hundreds of local children sneak onto post for the promise of free Halloween candy (security was a little bit different in those days).

It wasn’t perfect, of course, and moving was never what us kids wanted at the time. But we tried to make the most of each assignment, learning to ice skate in South Dakota, touring castles in Europe, even speaking a little Japanese along the way (ok, very little, maybe just a skoshi). And we made new friends at each stop, some of which we are still in touch with (and without the benefit of social media back in the day).

My dad’s next assignment after Korea was Fort Meade, Maryland. On the way, we set it up so that we could pass back through our former hometown of Rapid City. During our visit, I asked my parents “Why are my old friends all still here? Shouldn’t they have been sent to live somewhere else like we were?” When they explained that not everybody has to move every few years, I thought, “Wow, they are missing out.”

Are you a military kid? What do you remember most fondly about growing up?

courtPosted by Court Ogilvie, Chief Operating Officer

2016 Presidential Election: There’s Strength in Numbers, Military Families!

In case you’ve been living under a rock, we’re in an election year. This November, Americans will take to the polls to elect a new Commander in Chief. Many of us have watched news coverage of the candidates’ campaign efforts and tuned in for one of the 22 presidential primary debates that have been televised since last August (TWENTY-TWO?!). Others have even showed up to rallies to support our favorite candidate.

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As military families, we’ve been briefed on the do’s and don’ts regarding political campaigns—the Department of Defense (DoD) even has well-defined directives for Armed Forces members:

No marching or riding in political parades.

No display of partisan political signs at one’s residence in military housing.

Don’t wear your uniform to, or be an official Armed Forces representative at, any partisan political event.

Don’t speak before any partisan event or gathering that promotes a specific cause or candidate.

Basically, don’t do anything except vote?

Well, not exactly. The DoD explains there are things service members CAN do:

Register to vote.

Express your personal opinion about candidates…just not as a representative of the Armed Forces.

Display political bumper stickers on your personal vehicle (but nothing bigger).

Attend partisan events, rallies, or other activities as a spectator not in uniform.

Though none of these rules apply to military spouses or family members, it’s smart to consider what you do and don’t share, participate in, and identify with.

So, with such a laundry list of do’s and don’ts, why should any military family give a hoot about this election? Why bother? Only 1% of the American population serves in the military…1% can’t make a difference.

That, my friends, is where you’re wrong.

Many elections in our nation’s history have been decided by a margin smaller than 1%. From presidential elections to legislative elections, every vote matters. And if it wasn’t a margin of less than 1%, it sure was close. Remember in 2004 George W. Bush won the popular vote and defeated John Kerry? That victory margin was a mere 2.4%.

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Military families SHOULD care about voting in this year’s Presidential election.

You have the opportunity to decide your next Commander in Chief. This person will have the final say on important issues, like Sequestration (remember when your commissaries closed, and your MTF doctors weren’t on call?), foreign war, and your service member’s earned benefits.

The next President will make the call on whether your loved one will deploy in support of continued war.

Sure, there’s been 22 presidential primary debates in the last 8 months, and I think I can speak for many of us when I say those debates have been…interesting. But regardless of how many rules and regulations the DoD has for participating in political activities, the one that matters most is that you CAN vote. And you SHOULD.

There’s a reason military units don’t go into battle alone. There’s strength in numbers, and though 1% seems small, if this community banded together, the impact will be huge.

Between now and November 8th–when voters will take to the polls–NMFA will be spending time making sure this message is loud and clear: your vote matters! We’ll be sending out helpful information to make sure as many military families as possible are registered to vote and who make their voices heard by choosing the next Commander in Chief in November’s election.

You are the 1%. The small, but mighty 1%. And just like we always say here at NMFA: TOGETHER WE’RE STRONGER.

Do you have questions about voting? Not sure where or how to register? Leave your questions in the comments and we’ll answer them in upcoming blog posts!

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

One Man’s 12,000 Mile Bike Ride for Military Families

With the national monuments as his backdrop, Brian D’Apice took his year-long journey, and his message, to Washington this week.

“The Appalachians are steep, but the Rockies are tall.”

Brian has been riding his bike around America—literally AROUND the entire United States—to raise money and awareness for something close to his heart: military families and kids.

Brian + Lincoln

Brian joined the Army after high school and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division. He did two tours in Iraq, including 15 months in Baghdad.

“I was lucky to be single, but I saw [my fellow soldiers] struggle,” Brian said. “They had really hard times with their spouses and their kids, especially when they were coming home and adjusting back to life with their families.”

Brian is single himself, but jokes that Siri (iPhone’s virtual companion) is his girlfriend. Siri helped him navigate rough terrains, find places to stay, and contact potential donors and schools along the way.

His three-part message is simple, yet powerful: Appreciation, Purpose, and Mission.

“We are so lucky to be in this country. Living overseas infused my passion and appreciation for America. My purpose is to help others and I want to let people—especially kids—know you can do anything you put your mind to.”

How does someone even come up with the idea to ride a bike around the U.S.?

“I just woke up one day and decided this is what I wanted to do—so I did it.”  If you met Brian in person, you’d understand. He’s full of energy and passion, lights up a room with his enthusiasm and immediately makes you feel like his new best friend—which made sleeping on strangers’ couches a little easier.

“I was in upstate New York and I parked my bike and knocked on this random door and asked if I could camp under her pine trees. This 80 year old woman looked at me and said ‘Are you kidding? It’s cold outside. Come on in!’”

NMFA Group Shot

Brian has traveled nearly 12,000 miles since May 4, 2015 and will end his journey April 30 right where it began, in Times Square. That means he’s 94% of the way there!

Brian is a self-proclaimed Excel spreadsheet-junkie who tracks everything. Like, he…

  • Travels about 70 miles a day
  • Eats a tenth of a pound of peanut butter per day
  • Crosses a state line every 10.5 days
  • Spends about $12.50/day on food and housing
  • Rides his bike for 23.7 hours a week and spends the rest of his time making connections, speaking to schools and donors, and keeping up with his social media following

You can cheer him on at BicycleAroundAmerica.com.

Brian has already raised more than $40,000 for the National Military Family Association and Pencils for Promise. What’s next?

“There might be a book someday. Or I might take one of the suggestions I got from the kids and go swim around America next time.”

He’s kidding… but with Brian, you never know.

besa_2016Posted by Besa Pinchotti, Communications Director