Category Archives: Speaking up

End the Stigma—One Military Spouse’s Honest Account of How She Came Back from Attempted Suicide

“I remember waking up, gagging on the activated charcoal they used after I overdosed on the very medications that were meant to save me. My first thought was, why didn’t it work? I failed again.” Sara, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, shares the painful memory of her suicide attempt.

Sara has been a soldier’s spouse for nearly 12 years. She and her husband met in grad school. She was studying for her MBA. He was in medical school. When he joined the military, Sara wholeheartedly embraced the life.

“I was that wife. The one that helped out with his unit, led the FRG and mentored newer spouses. I was the go-getter; the career, the family and the military protocols, ceremonies and traditions were all a part of that equation. I loved all of it.”


But 4 deployments and just as many PCS moves—all while parenting three young girls—started to take its toll on her mental health. On the outside, Sara seemed happy. She continued to volunteer and help others. No one noticed she was suffering.

“I didn’t want to get up in the morning. When he was deployed or away for training, I felt overwhelmed and lonely. I isolated myself.” Sara found it hard to cope with day to day activities. “I started thinking about how I was nothing but a burden to my girls and to my husband. To the whole world, actually.”

Sara lost weight; she was sleeping less; she would cry easily and jokingly tell friends the world would be better off without her. Yet no one picked up on the pain she was experiencing and the dreadful thoughts that kept her up at night.

“I felt like there was a black cloud following me around. I was convinced that the only way for everyone else to be happy was to end my life.”

It all came to a head one October night in 2014. Sara sent her girls on a sleepover and picked a time she knew her husband wouldn’t be home yet. She counted out the antidepressants she secretly had her doctor prescribe but never actually used, took a swig of her favorite alcoholic drink and waited.

“I thought if I was gone, that my daughters and my husband would be better off.”

Sara didn’t realize that her father was going to drop by with some tools for her husband. He was the one that found her. “To this day, he is haunted by what he saw. My dad had to call 9-1-1 and perform CPR. He was shattered.”

Sara now realizes the devastating effect this has had on her family, friends and loved ones. “I realize now that by not seeking help, I was putting not only myself at risk, but it was greatly affecting my family and friends and their well-being.”

She’s now in treatment for depression, including medications that are monitored closely by her physician (and her husband), in a support group and in individual therapy. She talks openly about her experience in the hopes that it will help someone else.

“I know I’m at risk, but now I also know how to ask for and get help. Life is still hard, but now I have the tools to help me through the struggles.”

Could your loved one be at risk? Read more on the warning signs and keep the Military Crisis number handy: Call 800-273-8255; then press 1.

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

Diverse Scholars Initiative Forum: A Diverse Meeting of the Minds

I had the privilege of attending the 2016 United Health Diverse Scholars Initiative Forum a few weeks ago. I was in a room with 100 of the best and the brightest upcoming health professionals in the country. The whole forum buzzed with passion and innovative ideas. The multi-cultural event had attendees representing nine different non-profit or civic organizations focused on minority groups. Everyone in attendance was working or hoped to work in the healthcare field. The wide variety of backgrounds, cultural representation, and world experiences led to amazingly critical and thoughtful discussions. The whole experience was a truly collaborative meeting of the minds.

So, what was I doing there?

I am a white female and acknowledge the privilege that has inherently come with that. I consider myself middle-class from a middle-class background. However, this year the Diverse Scholars Initiative Forum included a new group of attendees: military spouses. In this capacity I am a minority, an anomaly even. Only a small group of Americans hold the distinct honor, and bare the hardships of being a military spouse.


The National Military Family Association (NMFA) awarded me a scholarship to assist with the financial burden of continuing education and the clinical supervision required for my profession as a clinical social worker. It was because of NMFA’s support for military spouses that I had the pleasure of attending the United Health Diverse Scholars Initiative Forum.

Throughout the Forum there was a strong focus on professional networking, branding, and advocacy. We heard from experienced members of the healthcare industry, participated in interactive panel discussions with experts, and had the opportunity to converse with members of congress on Capitol Hill. The chance to ask Congressmen and Senators questions about healthcare policy, in an open environment, was an invaluable experience.

During every aspect of the Forum we were engaged in meaningful conversations about the future of our country’s health. The important issues that healthcare professionals face were entrenched in everything. From policy to ethics, to standards of care; we tried to consider the “big stuff.” Being surrounded by such a diverse and brilliant crowd was nothing short of inspirational.

I left this year’s Diverse Scholars Initiative Forum feeling like I had taken a deep breath of fresh air. It left me feeling like a change is not only possible, but necessary. I am more sure than ever that this generation’s critical minds are up for the challenge.

Posted by Katie J. Haynes, MSW, LCSWA, military spouse and NMFA Scholarship Recipient 

Orange is the New Black Portrays Military Veterans as Power-Hungry Band of Brothers in Season 4

Who’s watching Orange Is the New Black? I’ve been a fan, and loyally binge watch every season as soon as it comes out. With the premiere of Season 4, I was ready to see what was going down at Litchfield Penitentiary.

If you’re watching…you probably know what’s going down: murder, untreated mental health issues, and the most disgusting portrayal of military veterans that makes me want to cringe every time I watch.

If you’re not watching (how are you NOT watching?!), here’s a rundown: in an effort to maximize government incentives for hiring military veterans, Litchfield Penitentiary, a minimum security women’s prison in upstate New York, employs a new staff of corrections officers—all who are prior military. As the season progresses, the new officers turn into one of many villains this time around, sexually assaulting and harassing the female inmates, even using torture-like punishment for disobeying orders.

And I’ll say it: I think this season has gone a little too far. The show’s writers portray these military veterans as a scumbag band of brothers looking to relive their glory days and wartime stories. Even the show’s civilian characters get in on the stereotype of veterans.


(JoJo Whilden/Netflix)

One especially memorable scene happened in episode two, aptly named “Power Suit;” a few corporate executives for the newly-privatized prison system discuss the tax incentives they’d receive if they hired veterans as corrections officers. One of execs makes a gun with his fingers, and explains why they hadn’t hired them before.

“You know, veterans,” he says as he pretends to shoot down the rest of the people sitting in the meeting.

These “power suits” even talk about how much more money they’d get for hiring wounded veterans. Litchfield’s Warden Joe Caputo dismisses the idea of using veterans with injuries because, “That might make the guards less effective.”

The civilian world already has a difficult time understanding military families, and the struggles that each person goes through when a family member serves in the military. There’s an even bigger gap to bridge when it comes to veterans and wounded service members.

Sure, it’s just a television show. And I guess if it bothers me so much, I could do like Litchfield’s finest corrections officers, and just ignore it or stop watching.

But then there was the finale. (No spoilers, I promise)

One military veteran corrections officer shares his experience being deployed overseas with another officer–a civilian, during Season 4’s shocking plot twist finale, and explains it’s best to just “get over” traumatic experiences:

“[There’s] so much time spent chasin’ after the bad guys,” he says, “and then you don’t get ’em, and then they blow up your friends or shoot up your convoy, and you just get so mad, tired and bored. So you just grab a farm kid from a grape field, and you make him juggle live grenades until one of them blows up…and you just gotta get over it…It can get rough, the dreams. And also being awake. You’re in for some hard times, but like I said you gotta get over it.”

Nothing perpetuates a stereotype like continually adding fuel to the stigma.


Not all veterans who have seen battle are off-kilter and not all veterans that are off-kilter have seen battle.

Orange Is The New Black portrays the military veteran corrections officers as heartless, violence-driven, power-hungry psychopaths. Even the one female veteran hired wasn’t safe from stereotyping; though she was a little cooler in her demeanor, she stood idly by as her ‘brothers in arms’ took advantage of inmates left and right.

I think we need to have more open discussions about how our communities can embrace military families—active duty, Reserves, wounded, and veterans, alike. We need more people to know that 20% of service members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And that 1 in 4 military children struggle with depression. And that there’s a nationwide shortage of mental health providers that have the cultural competency to appropriately provide care to military families.

These are the stories that people need to know about the military community. And there are so many more like them that aren’t being heard. Unfortunately, with seasons like this one of Orange Is The New Black, I think its doing damage to the strides that organizations like NMFA, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Wounded Warrior Project, and others are making to strengthen our nation’s service members and their families.

Our military members, veterans, and their families have sacrificed far too much for us to just sit back and let the stereotypes gain momentum. We owe it to them to reduce the distance and bridge the gap between these typecasts and the real life stories of military life.

Are you a military family watching Orange Is the New Black? What did you think of their portrayal of military veterans?

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

Health Care for Transgender Military Kids: Where’s the Equal Access?

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month is a time of celebration–and the members of today’s Armed Forces and their families represent the most diverse military population in history. But even with the Department of Defense (DoD) joining the celebration of this month, we are reminded that under the current DoD regulations, transgender service members are unable to serve openly, a damaging reality that hurts the entire family unit. Thankfully, that’s all about to change soon. The DoD is in the process of updating these outdated regulations. But unfortunately, the DoD also has specific healthcare guidelines that prohibit certain medical care for transgender military dependents.

With so much anti-LGBT legislation out there now, much of which targets transgender people, service members are often stuck in the proverbial closet protecting their transgender children. To make matters worse, when they are home, they are continuously fighting the battle to have their children cared for. Service members have the heavy burden of protecting our country and should not also have to worry about whether or not their family members are getting the care they need.


The Brewer family is one of these military families. Amanda and her husband Josh, a soldier who has served for 14 years, have a transgender teenage daughter who has continuously struggled to receive adequate support and assistance navigating military channels and healthcare.

Their family has experienced substantial struggles navigating TRICARE–even simply receiving adequate healthcare for their daughter, Jenn, has been harder than necessary. And thanks to the DoD’s transgender exclusion policy in the military healthcare system, it doesn’t get any easier.

TRICARE’s exclusion policy restricts transgender dependents to only receiving care at military installations. Any off base referrals for specific mental health professionals or medical appointments are denied.

For the Brewers, this means their daughter has had to forgo critical and needed care because services are not always available. When TRICARE deems transgender as suffering from “gender dysphoria,” any medical care or hospitalizations outside of a military installation has to be paid out of pocket, which places profound financial stress on these military families.

Currently, the DoD only has two bases that provide care to transgender dependents. If policies were to change, dependents would likely be categorized under the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). With the limited locations of medical care for transgender dependents, many service members’ careers would be jeopardized. Without a critical reconsideration of this policy, many transgender children and dependents remain untreated and excluded.


One current military provider, who has been treating transgender military dependent children and adolescents for the last several years told me:

The main problem that families encounter when seeking treatment for their transgender child is that there is a lack of TRICARE policy supporting medical treatment of transgender dependents. For the families that are able to find military providers who are willing to provide necessary treatment at a military facility, transferring to a new duty station may mean losing access to their care.”

She also said, “Several of the largest military training facilities have tried to establish multidisciplinary treatment teams that would treat transgender children and adolescents. This approach follows World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) practice guidelines. We also had several military providers in different pediatric sub-specialties who have received training to treat transgender children and adolescents. However, as medical providers, we find ourselves unable to provide standard of care to this population in great need of services, due to a lack of policy supporting the treatment of transgender dependents.”

This LGBT Pride Month, we are reminded of the tremendous progress we’ve made, but also of all that we have yet to accomplish. We look forward to working together to continue that progress and ensure that all service members and their families, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, are getting the care and support they need and deserve.

Posted by Jennifer Dane, Diversity & Inclusion Policy Analyst, The American Military Partner Association, the nation’s largest resource and support network for the partners, spouses, families, and allies of America’s LGBT service members and veterans

Untreated PTSD: Either Your Family Implodes, or You Do

A Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) diagnosis is often the start of a scary and unknown journey for both the service member, and the military family. Studies show at least 20 percent of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered with PTSD. Life after combat can feel like a raging battlefield.

Add in PCS moves, more deployments, transitioning or separating from the military, and other life changes, and PTSD symptoms get worse.

Left untreated, PTSD affects every member of the military family.


Just ask Paul*, an Army veteran, who served 5 combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. He was adamant that getting help was a sign of weakness.

“I had no respect for people who went to a shrink. I thought it was dumb and it wouldn’t help.”

That is, until his own PTSD diagnosis, when he realized help was his only option.

“I was emotionally abusive,” Paul admitted, “I didn’t know it at the time. I mean, my wife was amazing–she never complained. Even when I yelled and got angry all the time, she was steadfast. It wasn’t until about 7 months ago when she had had enough. She wanted a divorce.”

PTSD symptoms can include things like anger/irritability, sleeplessness, headaches, re-experiencing, hyper-vigilance and an overarching feeling like they’re not themselves—something Paul struggled with, and feels tremendous guilt about.

And the guilt is what plagues many service members who have been diagnosed with PTSD. Many know they’re being terrible to their families, but don’t know how to stop.

“No one talks about service member’s guilt,” Paul shared. “We talk about the difficulties we have with our families, but not the guilt we feel for causing it. Believe me, there’s so much guilt. It’s an awful feeling.”

Paul has had bouts of unemployment, and underemployment. Like many service members, Paul was in a highly specialized job while in the military, and once he returned to the civilian world, it was like none of that skill mattered. He felt like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. Losing the comradery of having his brothers and sisters in the Army was equally as devastating.

“I was in an MOS that I loved,” he recalled, “but the trouble was, once I got out, I could no longer find meaning [in my life]. I felt miserable, daily. This trickled down into my family life. I was a jerk and I still feel guilty about it.”

Paul remembered his wife begging him to get treatment, but it wasn’t until he noticed the profound changes in her—suffering health and signs of depression—that he finally got help.


Like most service members on PTSD medications, Paul dealt with side-effects that made life at home even harder. From headaches, to feeling like he was in a constant ‘zombie-like’ trance, Paul’s depression got worse…and his guilt even heavier.

“It has affected my family deeply. It has affected me deeply, too. The overwhelming feeling of anger I feel just takes over. It’s like I’m not myself,” he explained. “I had such a hard time feeling anything but irritated. And my family couldn’t do anything. I mean, no matter what, I’d get irritated with them. And then later I’d realize just how much I’ve affected them.”

Paul’s four children now see a therapist, and his family attends counseling together, too—something he says he never considered doing when he was still in the military.

“My family means the world to me. I think back and wonder if it had continued what would have become of me [if I didn’t get help]. What would my family be like?” Paul shared through tears.

It’s important for Paul and others battling PTSD to know how they’re affecting their families. Paul continues to keep his own actions and feelings in check, but he worries about those who haven’t received the treatment to help them do that.

“I think of my fellow soldiers, my brothers in arms. I see their pain. I see their marriages falling apart. I see their kids suffering. I see me in them,” he explained. “It’s easy to blame my diagnosis for my behavior…I did it all the time. But, it was hurting those I love, those I counted on, those who counted on me.”

Paul’s advice to other service members living with PTSD, and who may feel the same guilt he does, is simple, “Get help. Talk about it. Talk to your buddies you haven’t heard from in a while. Put a name to your situation, so it becomes normal. Just don’t be afraid to get help. Because there’s only two options if you don’t: either your family implodes, or you do.”

This is the third post in a 5-part series on PTSD in military families. If you missed our first or second post, check those out, then follow along for next week’s post, where we’ll talk about the use of PTSD as a ‘catch-all’ for all mental health issues. Is it PTSD, or could it be something else?

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


*Paul’s name has been changed for this story

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.


“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

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.


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%.


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