Tag Archives: military families

Are There Success Stories With PTSD? Absolutely! Here’s One.

As we wrap up Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month, and our series about PTSD in the military home, we wanted to share a success story with you.

If you haven’t read the previous week’s posts, check them out. We shared stories like Bailey Francisco’s, a military brat that spoke frankly about his dad’s battle with PTSD and how it ripped their family apart. Week 2 touched on how PTSD is no excuse for abuse–there is a difference between the diagnosis and inexcusable treatment of a spouse or a child.

Week 3 we heard how Paul, an Army veteran, lives with the guilt he carries after leaving the military and not being able to deal with life. A struggle that resulted in anger and explosions at his family. With a PTSD diagnosis and proper treatment, Paul’s journey took a drastic turn.

And in Week 4, perhaps the most important lesson was learned: PTSD isn’t a catch-all diagnosis, and why it’s so critical to seek help from a professional to find the right treatment for the individual.

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This week, we want you to meet the Grenier* family.

Matthew Grenier is now an active duty E-6 in the Army. He still remembers the day he enlisted.

“I have known since I was a child that I wanted to join the military. Just like my father ,and his father before him.” For Matt, there was never a question. Even Amy, who is now his wife, knew that about him.

“We were high school sweethearts,” she remembers, “and he was always straight with me that if we were going to get married, the Army was going to be part of that equation.”

That equation turned out to be a lot heavier than either of them anticipated. Upon finishing Advanced Individual Training, he was off to his new unit, and on his way to Afghanistan. “I always knew it was a possibility,” Matt explained, “and it was what I had trained for. To be honest, I was looking forward to going. I was worried about my then 5 months pregnant wife. That was hard.”

Amy shared, “I had a pretty easy pregnancy, thankfully, so it wasn’t too bad. But, still, I had wished that he could be there for the birth of our baby. He did get to see the ultrasound and we found out our baby’s gender. That’s a lot more than other families get. So, I was grateful.”

In Afghanistan, Matt’s unit saw heavy fire. It was 2007-2008. They lost lives. He saw things he still won’t talk about.

When he returned home, it was a difficult time. He recalls, “I didn’t want to hold my baby girl. I didn’t want to talk to my wife. I was a ghost in the family.”

“It was like he wasn’t even there,” Amy says. “He was always quiet. He didn’t go out, he kept to himself and his only other emotion was anger.”

Matt wasn’t doing well, and at his command’s urging, he sought help for what he later found out was PTSD. At the time, he didn’t know what PTSD was, and had no interest in talking to anyone–a commonality shared by many military members.

Matt started individual therapy, and then family therapy shortly thereafter. He even sought out the company of his fellow soldiers who were going through the same things. He recalls that just spending time together with other people who understood the struggle, and being there for each other when needed was enough.

It’s been 9 years since his deployment, and 7 years since he first sought treatment. He’s been off medications for 3 years, out of treatment, and ‘in recovery,’ as Matt calls it.

“I can see now that PTSD is treatable. I always thought it was an incurable disease–something I would always carry with me.”

Matt now shares his story of recovery with others, “I know how hard it is to accept and to talk about. My family was suffering. I was suffering. It was needless. Just get help. If there is one thing I want others to take away from this is just that. Find help. Talk to someone. Do it before you lose everything. And, remember, this is completely treatable. I’m not saying I don’t have my moments, but I can say that I’m living a much fuller life and so is my family.”

Do you have a PTSD success story? We’d love to hear about it.

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

 

*Names changed for this story

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

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

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

“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