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.

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(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.

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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

Join the NMFA Volunteer Corps and Volunteer Virtually!

The National Military Family Association is fortunate to have Volunteers in communities worldwide. NMFA Volunteers participate in a variety of projects locally, and virtually, and their work has a lasting impact. And not all volunteering has to be in-person. Here are some of the ways our Volunteers are working to improve the lives of military families around the globe, in person and virtually:

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  • Conference Calls. NMFA Volunteers participate in all kinds of conference calls; from new Volunteer conference calls, to team conference calls, and even calls with our Government Relations department. Our conference calls help educate, connect, and further our advocacy efforts on behalf of military families.
  • Branching Out. Our Volunteers have added their voice and writing talents to this blog! They share stories about moving, saving money, PCSing with pets, and inspire other military families to share their stories and be informed.
  • Operation Purple® Camps. This year, nine Volunteers wrote letters to Senators and members of Congress inviting them to visit one of our Operation Purple Camps, and meet some of our youngest heroes! We also have Volunteers packing their backpacks and lacing up their hiking boots to visit an Operation Purple Camp for the day. Each of our Operation Purple Camp visitors visit a camp to observe our curriculum, meet with the camp staff, interact with the campers, and make sure campers are having a true Operation Purple Camp experience. They will probably taste s’mores, too!
  • Local Events. NMFA Volunteers are the face, voice, eyes, and ears of NMFA in their local communities! They are busy hosting information tables all over the globe, attending town hall meetings, Yellow Ribbon Events, and participating in patient advisory councils at local Military Treatment Facilities and clinics. Why is this local outreach so important? Because it helps military families better understand who NMFA is, and it helps us understand what military families are experiencing on a real-life, day-to-day level.
  • Advocacy. Our Volunteers are the heart of our advocacy efforts. Because of the information we receive from our Volunteers and our social media networks, we’ve been able to defeat the proposed ER Misuse fee, and tell Congress how important the Commissary benefit is to our nation’s military families. Currently, we are asking Congress to be thoughtful about TRICARE reforms.
  • Scholarships. This year, our NMFA Volunteers worked tirelessly supporting our Joanne H. Patton Military Spouse Scholarship program. Eighty Volunteers judged 4,726 scholarships! These Volunteers donated an equivalent of $65,000 to military spouse education!

So what do all of these projects have in common? Each of these projects happen in local communities, and in some cases the comfort of your own home. Our scholarship judging project is a virtual project. Volunteers choose the events and meetings they attend, and conference calls happen at differing times to accommodate multiple time zones and schedules. Do any of these opportunities sound like something you are interested in?

Do you want to help your own military family and the military families in your community? Then join our Volunteer Corps

Ann HPosted by Ann Hamilton, Volunteer & Community Outreach Manager

What If It Isn’t PTSD at all? Could It Be Something Else?

There’s a reason we’ve been talking about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and its effects on both the family and the service member. Not only is it important for all affected, but it NEEDS to be talked about. PTSD isn’t something one person deals with. Everyone in the family is touched in some way.

But what if it isn’t PTSD at all?

Many service members do have PTSD, but PTSD is not–and should not be–a ‘catch-all’ diagnosis for all mental health issues that service members face.

Unfortunately, this is often the case. What we might think is PTSD could actually be any number of other things: anxiety, depression, a sleep disorder, even adjustment and reintegration issues.

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The key with PTSD, and with any other mental health diagnosis, is that there is a significant change from your normal. It affects day-to-day life in significant ways, and it lasts longer than one month.

What do I mean by that?

Well, take Paul* for instance. You met Paul in this blog post. He talked about how he felt like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. Daily. All the time. He felt angry and irritable. All the time. It affected his sleep and appetite. It affected every corner of his life, from his employment situation to his life at home and his interactions with others. His life changed from his typical experience of it, and it was disrupted in very significant ways, altering his life.

This is what a PTSD diagnosis should look like. For a proper diagnosis, one must experience change from your ‘normal,’ with significant effects on your life lasting longer than a month.

But it isn’t always the case.

Just because someone is struggling with who they are in their life back at home, doesn’t mean they have PTSD.

Take Mark* for instance. Mark, like Paul, had several combat deployments. He had difficulty getting reacquainted with his “old life” when he came back from deployment; he felt sad, and had difficulty concentrating and sleeping for a few weeks after his return. He didn’t feel like he fit in.

Most of all, Mark says it felt like he simply didn’t know who he was after leaving the service.

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The difference between Mark and Paul was that Mark was able to ‘snap out of his funk,’ and could enjoy time with friends and family. He may feel sad, irritable, and out-of-sorts at times, but it didn’t last. Mark could easily cheer up. But he, also like Paul, was diagnosed with PTSD.

Mark shared, “The diagnosis didn’t seem to fit. I felt okay most of the time. I was able to work, go to school, and spend time with my family. Sure, I had days when it was harder than others, but it didn’t take over, or anything.”

What Mark describes is known as an adjustment disorder. He was having trouble adjusting to his new reality.

This doesn’t mean he may not, at some point, struggle with PTSD. He may be triggered by events that could result in a diagnosis. He would need to consult with a professional to be sure.

Not everyone who has seen battle has PTSD, and not everyone with PTSD has seen battle. The main thing is to look for changes–impact on your life–and how long it lasts. This will help you understand the difference.

Mark and Paul are two diagnoses of PTSD. With two very different realities.

If you need help, or have questions about PTSD or symptoms, it’s best to seek the advice of a licensed professional.

This is the fourth post in a 5-part series on PTSD in military families. If you missed our firstsecond, or third post, check those out, then follow along for next week’s post, where we’ll meet a family who dug out of the trenches of a PTSD diagnosis, and see how they’re doing today. Can you successfully overcome PTSD?

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

 

*Names have been changed for this story

Military Housing: An Experience of Then and Now

As a child, I remember the days when military housing was run by the installation. We had to make sure the grass was cut regularly, and there were self-help centers where you could go to get supplies to make sure it happened. There were sports leagues, like softball and volleyball, grouped by neighborhood communities, and the pride that came with winning the neighborhood trophy was contagious. Each neighborhood had Mayors who had administrative responsibilities, and assisted with relaying information to residents.

Those days are long gone.

Now, as a military spouse, I can tell you: housing has changed. The majority of military installations have privatized housing, which means, for the most part, a private housing company is in charge of handling the day in and day out responsibilities of housing.

Once we received orders to North Carolina, I went to the housing website I was given by our current installation. On the website, I had to fill out an application and a provide a copy of our orders. That seemed pretty easy…so far so good. We were sent housing options and floor plans, and were given options based on my husband’s rank and our family size. Because we received our orders early, we were able to choose a more desirable neighborhood, but it had a longer wait list. Once we received our final clearance from our current installation, we were all set to head to North Carolina.

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The day finally came for us to go to the welcome center on our new base. We went straight to housing with all of our required paperwork, and toured the neighborhood we would be living in. There was a neighborhood center, with rooms to rent for birthday parties, Bunco nights, or whatever else, which was very different from what I was used to as a child.

And no cutting the grass, either. They’d have the grass cut for us. And gone are the days of self-help centers. Oh, my husband was super happy about that one! Instead, now maintenance workers would come to my house to fix any crazy problems that we may have. There were monthly activities that we could attend as a family, too. I could really enjoy this new privatized housing thing!

But what about the housing from my childhood?

We could definitely get used to not having to cut our own grass, but as an option, we were told we could cut our own grass, and we would be added to a “do not cut” list.

“That’s okay!” we said and laughed!

“What about the neighborhood sports leagues?”

They’re are none.

“So, what about the Mayors?” I asked. Another no.

“How will we get information?”

Now, there are monthly newsletters delivered by the housing staff. We could even read them on the neighborhood website.

To stay positive, I would give this new type of housing a chance, and not be stuck on what I remembered as a military child.

Although I do miss the neighborhood sports teams and the Mayor, my first experience with privatized housing has been a great experience! There have been definite upgrades to what I remember as a child. I don’t know if I can say that privatized military housing is better, but I can say, for my family, we enjoyed our first experience.

Did you enjoy your first experience with privatized military housing?  Do you have any tips to help others with a smooth transition?

Posted by Elizabeth H., military spouse and National Military Family Association Volunteer

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Passing the Post-9/11 GI Bill to a Military Spouse: Yes or No?

For me, making the decision to use my husband’s Post-9/11 GI Bill, rather than save it for our kids, or for my husband when he gets out of the military, was difficult. The decision wasn’t hard for my husband, though. He has told me time and again that he wants me to use it. But it’s been difficult for me.

I am not the one who raised her right hand, and swore an oath to our nation. I am not the one who works countless hours, and follows every order, even when that order means missing out on holidays and graduations and plans with the family. I am not the one who deployed, or is ready and waiting for the next time someone needs to put their life on the line for Uncle Sam.

Not me.

I’m just the spouse. I am his cheerleader. I am proud to support him and do what I need to do to keep our home happy and healthy so he can do his job. I am doing everything I can to pitch in for our family, and that includes working, and hustling, and yes, going back to college.

My degree program is expensive. Very expensive. And climbing a career ladder as a military spouse isn’t easy.

Sometimes I wonder if spending this benefit on me is a worthwhile investment. I am not sure we’ll be in this area long enough for me to finish this degree program, let alone use it to it’s fullest potential. I am not sure I am going to be able to reach MY fullest potential as long as my spouse is active duty.

I’ve been struggling with this icky, dirty, rotten feeling, and wondering if my family made the right decision to invest in me, and this degree, right now.

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I shared these concerns with a friend, and fellow military spouse, who reassured me that I am not alone. She reminded me that degrees do not have expiration dates; if now is the right time for me to be working towards a degree, then I should do it. Even if we have a PCS looming, or I am unsure of what the future holds. I can get that degree, and hang it on my wall, and stick it on my resume, and it will be there for me when I need it.

She reminded me that struggling with guilt is normal, especially for a woman who is also a mom, like me. We are used to giving our kids the last scoop of ice cream and putting our needs to the side to care for them. So using a benefit for myself that could be passed to them is tough for me.

But, I can still use my degree to help them. Getting this degree will raise my earning potential, and impact my family’s budget. By the time my kids are ready to go to college, I could be earning much more money, and have an easier time helping pay their tuition. Before they are ready to go to college, our family will have more money to invest in sports and activities and tutors, so my kids will be more competitive when it comes to earning a college scholarship.

I need to remember that my husband and I are a team. We are in this together, and he believes I am a worthwhile investment. I need to believe in myself, as well. The Post-9/11 GI Bill has the potential to make a real difference for my family NOW. He is a “lifer,” and won’t be out of the military for another 10-15 years (knock on wood). By then, he won’t need the benefit. But I need it now, and our family needs my employment income now.

Lastly, my friend reminded me that many military spouses are struggling with employment issues. Many have put themselves, their educations, and their careers on the back burner. They’ve given up…and I don’t blame them at all. It’s hard to be ready and willing to work, and have the education and experience you need, and STILL hit a brick wall. Getting this degree will help me become more employable. It will make me more competitive. I may still struggle to find a job, and military life may still present it’s own challenges, but it’s always better to make sure there are multiple doors (and windows!) open to me. This degree will unlock them all.

I have an opportunity that has been lovingly given to me by my husband. He earned the right to choose where that benefit was best spent. He has chosen to invest in my education, and our family’s future. The best thing I can do for all of us is to continue to work my tail off, keep my head up, and know I am doing my part to help my family in the long run.

Are you a military spouse using the Post-9/11 GI Bill? How did you decide it was right for your family?

HeatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager