Tag Archives: deployment

4 Ways to Manage Holiday Stress without Being a Grinch

The holiday season can be stressful for even the most organized, intentional, or laid back person. Take me, for instance. There’s a little over 3 weeks left until Christmas and I have no tree, no Christmas lights, and I have a permanent ban on the radio stations that play Christmas music 24/7. My holiday decorations aren’t organized, I have no space in my apartment for a 9 foot tree, and so to deal, I just put a moratorium on Christmas like a textbook Grinch.

Maybe the holidays bring about these same emotions in you, too? Military life is stressful enough as it is, add a loved one’s absence, issues reintegrating after a deployment, or even dysfunctional family dynamics, and it’s bound to trigger the Grinch in anyone.

Ba-hum-bug.

It’s normal for a service member to have trouble ‘fitting in’ with their own family after a long deployment, or even upon transitioning out of the military. Reintegration is a process, and there are tons of resources to help—even for children and spouses.

If the holidays are a stressful time for your family, consider these tips:

  1. Mentally prepare yourself for the holidays. The Real Warriors Campaign suggests considering what makes you uncomfortable; certain people, triggering questions, small or crowded spaces, even crying kids can be a damper. Think about what you may say to questions about tough topics, like deployments, and consider how you will deescalate emotions when they surface.
  2. Know what your children are feeling. Military life isn’t easy for even the littlest heroes, so when life changes and a parent leaves (or comes home), their adjustment can be tough, too. In fact, one in four military kids will suffer from depression, so knowing how your child might think, or process emotions—like testing the rules, or isolating themselves—can ease the stress in your home.
  3. Stay active and engaged. It’s easy for some of us to deal with stress by isolating ourselves, or refusing to take part in activities. Try an activity you know you’d enjoy, like that kickboxing class you’ve been considering, and relieve some frustration. Stay connected to your trusted circle of family and friends, and encourage yourself to engage with them, rather than isolating yourself. If something gets uncomfortable, refer back to #1, or this next tip.
  4. Know when to say no. Though it may seem like a double-edged sword, this is the best tip, in my opinion. Talk out with your spouse and kids where you want to spend your time this holiday season. If a certain event is notoriously hectic, consider skipping it. Your time is valuable, and so is your sanity. Choose wisely, and know that saying no is okay. Your loved ones will understand and respect your boundaries.

The hustle and bustle of the holidays is undoubtedly a stress-filled time for some. But the stress can be manageable, and with a few tips and tricks, even the coldest Grinch heart can grow three sizes and the true meaning of the holidays can come through—get ready for all the feels!

For more tips and resources about managing holiday stress, check out the Real Warriors Campaign.

What tips help your family deal with holiday stress?

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

When Waiting Gets Old

It’s no secret that military family life involves a whole lot of hurry-up-and-wait. Quickly: pack up, prepare, make decisions, fill out paperwork, unpack…then, wait.

Oh, how many things there are to wait for!

Maybe you’re waiting on orders; it’s so easy to wonder why receiving PCS orders can take so long. We think, “If we could just get that Request For Orders, then I can start researching housing and schools and preschool ballet classes and whether the PX is any good.” Until then, you can only wonder, “Are we going overseas or staying in the US? Should I stock up on warm winter clothes for the kids because we might go to Alaska, or should I invest in lots of shorts because we’re moving to Florida?”

Or maybe you are so very tired of waiting for the delivery of your household goods in the middle of a move. Paper plates and creative adaptations of take-out are just not cutting it anymore. It’s been weeks since you slept in your own bed. You need some flatware, picture frames, and the calm of knowing every important box made it to the next location.

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Even after you’ve settled into a new community, you might still be living life in limbo, waiting for a return to normalcy. Maybe you are tired of waiting for that perfect job to come available near your new home. Or, perhaps you find yourself waiting to make the group of friends that you’ve hoped for. You’ve hung up that “Welcome Home” sign, but it just doesn’t feel like home yet. So you wait.

Watching the clock tick day after day is almost never as annoying and stressful as when waiting for a deployed spouse to come home. Homecoming feels so far away sometimes. During deployment we find ourselves waiting for the chance to relax again, breathe again, sleep well at night again, and feel whole again…which only happens when they finally make it home.

It’s easy to be discouraged when waiting gets old. It’s exhausting and frustrating. So much of our lives as military spouses are outside our own control.

It is the waiting that often connects the seasons of our lives, drawing bridges between what was, what is now, and what will be. One thing I know for sure: though waiting is uncomfortable, it somehow has the capacity to make us stronger, and more resilient. It can be irritating, but it can also be challenging. And waiting can help fuel anticipation for new chapters of our lives.

To the military spouses who are waiting for something, know this: waiting is itself a season, and seasons change. Hang in there. That RFO, your household goods, great new friends, and the day that you call a new place, “home,” are just around the corner!

How do you get through the waiting seasons? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!

teresa-bannerPosted by Teresa Banner, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer

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

“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

The Benefit I Hope You Never Need to Use

Every time my husband got ready to leave for more than a few days, whether on a deployment or for training, we would have the same conversation.

“So,” I would ask uncomfortably, “are you sure your affairs are in order?”

The first time I asked, he was confused. “What do you mean?” he asked.

“You, know – the important stuff – if something happens to you while you are gone, how will I be able to take care of our kids?”

“Oh, you mean life insurance?” he asked.

Yes, I couldn’t say the words without a lump forming in my throat. Life insurance.

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No one wants to talk about life insurance, or spend any time thinking about why you might need it, but it’s an important conversation to have. Service members and their families need to think about what they would do if the worst were to happen. As the mom of two young children, I had to be sure I would be able to take care of them, no matter what.

Military members are automatically enrolled in the Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) for the maximum amount of coverage of $400,000. Premiums are deducted from the service member’s base pay. A service member is automatically insured under full-time SGLI if he or she meets one of the following requirements:

  • Active duty member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard
  • Commissioned member of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) or the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS)
  • Cadet or midshipman of the U.S. military academies
  • Member, cadet, or midshipman of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) engaged in authorized training and practice cruises
  • Member of the Ready Reserve or National Guard and are scheduled to perform at least 12 periods of inactive training per year
  • Service member who volunteers for a mobilization category in the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR)

If a service member would like to designate a beneficiary, reduce, or decline SGLI coverage, then a SGLV 8286 form (Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance Election and Certificate) must be completed. SGLI coverage may be converted after active duty to Veterans’ Group Life Insurance, or to a commercial life insurance policy.

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What about family members?

Military families also have access to Family Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (FSGLI). FSGLI is a program providing term life insurance to a spouse and dependent children of an insured service member under SGLI. The service member pays a premium for spouse coverage in $10,000 increments up to $100,000. Dependent children are insured at no cost for $10,000. FSGLI coverage is automatic for $100,000, not exceeding the service member’s SGLI coverage, unless the spouse is a dual-service couple. FSGLI spouse coverage is not automatic for service members who married other service members on or after January 2, 2013. Service members in this category will have to apply for coverage using form SGLV 8286A. Spouse SGLI premiums are also deducted from the service member’s pay and the premium rate is based on age category of the spouse. Post-military service conversion options are available for spouse SGLI, but not for dependent children.

How much life insurance do you need?

This can be different for each family. Generally, financial planners recommend short-term needs to cover immediate expenses such as outstanding debts, and long-term needs of future income to sustain the household. Take some time to talk to your spouse about your short-term and long-term needs, and learn more about life insurance options available for service members and their families. It may be helpful to consider your life insurance needs after your service member transitions out of the military, as well. A financial counselor can help you plan for your needs, and counselors are available at your local installation, military banks, or credit unions, or via Military OneSource.

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Issue Strategist

Easy Valentine’s Day Crafts for Military Kids!

Valentine’s Day is a few days away, and if you haven’t already snagged Valentines for your child’s class, you know you’re left to rush to the store and fend off the other last minute moms and dads who forgot, too.

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But if you’re not into that, don’t worry, homemade Valentines are just as awesome. In fact, there are tons of awesome Valentines crafts in the black hole–I mean, Pinterest. Plenty for kids of all ages. What’s better, these are the perfect crafts to create with love and send to your deployed service member to share a little love on this year’s Day of Love.

I’ve done the hard work for you (Pinterest is tiring, y’all), and here are some of the most awesome, and easy, Valentines Day crafts for military kids! For more ideas, check out our Holiday Crafts for Military Kids Pinterest board!

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https://www.pinterest.com/pin/262968065720041368/

Have any fun crafts of your own? Leave us a link in the comments! Don’t forget to tag us in your Instagram pics, @militaryfamily!

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

How the “Talking Doctor” Helped my Military Kids Cope with Deployment

My in-laws have a fantasy with how  they view my family.

Their assumption is we have the perfect family. We only enjoy the benefits that the military offers dependents. We get to travel. We visit exotic cities like Norfolk, VA. Our medical care is almost free and we save money shopping at the commissary. It seems we literally have the best quality of life.

Recently, they visited us. We showed them where the kids go to school and where their ballet studio is located. We showed them our local library, where the girls check out their books and attend story time. We also pointed out their pediatrician’s office, and where they attend sessions with their “talking doctor.”

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“What’s a talking doctor?” My in-laws were deeply puzzled.

I explained to them that once a month, my children attend therapy with a licensed child psychologist. My in-laws were horrified to realize their granddaughters attend therapy on a monthly basis, and without reservation.

“Why? What horrible thing has happened to them that they need to see a psychologist?” they demanded to know.

I politely explained that my children have rarely seen their father in the last four years. He’s unwillingly missed four consecutive birthdays of both children. He has missed big holidays like Christmas, Easter and New Year’s Eve. Worst, he was never able to send them to school on their first day, attend parent-teacher conferences, and wasn’t home to congratulate them when they finished the school year. He has been on two consecutive deployments, several underway missions, and works long hours, since he has been on his department-head tour.

I told my in-laws that despite sending them cute pictures of us smiling, we experienced many sleepless nights with the girls crying for their dad. There were many school nights where the girls refused to do their homework because they missed their dad. And there have been many times when we all went to emergency room, spending several hours waiting for medical care because one of us was sick, and I didn’t have a sitter or a friend to help me watch the other.

 

Life for the military dependent is down right hard, but for many of us, we refuse to give up the mission. And we won’t give up hope and help provided to us.

I tried, on my own, to make our daughters lives a little brighter. After many trials and errors, I built a community where I thought my kids felt welcomed. When my daughters didn’t feel like they fit in at their school, I looked for options to transfer them to an institution where they felt they could learn in a supportive environment.

No matter how many people I forced to visit us, how many friends we forged, or how many expensive places I took the girls, none of it mattered. They still missed their father.

Despite all my efforts, I realized my daughters’ anxieties were multiplying. I finally scheduled an appointment with a therapist. It took a while but we found the right therapist that understood our complicated plight.

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Our typical military dependent plight:

“Dad is still married to Mom and loves her. Mom loves Dad. Dad loves the girls and works very hard to support the family financially but Dad is not physically seen or present.”

In the civilian world, at least the breadwinner has some flexibility in his or her working hours, but it’s not the same in the military. My in-laws encouraged us not to tell many people that we see a psychologist. They lectured us that people might take it that something is severely wrong with us. I told them there is no shame in receiving help, especially when it comes to my children’s health.

Since we have seen a therapist, my daughters are much happier. They needed to hear from a medical professional that their daddy is safe. The work he does will not necessarily kill him. We also discussed how to manage situations that are out of our control. We learned to how to effectively communicate as a family. I learned that just because I can handle the deployment, doesn’t mean my kids will follow my lead as their mother.

I thank TRICARE for allowing us to utilize resources, like our therapist, to help us understand each other and how to control our fears and loneliness. The girls learned in therapy that even though “deployment” means Dad might enter a war zone, it doesn’t mean he’s actually going to war or will have to shoot guns at anyone. It was a huge revelation for all of us; I think my girls know about modern-day politics and the constant possible wars we are engaging.

Therapy has been heaven-sent, helping us relieve the heavy burden we were all carrying mentally.

Have you ever done something rewarding for your family that others didn’t agree with? How did you handle it?

Posted by Katie M., Military Spouse and Mother