Tag Archives: wounded warriors

Need Bonding Time With Your Spouse and Kids? Operation Purple Healing Adventures Brings the Magic!

Not long ago, I worked at one of our many Operation Purple Healing Adventures®. This retreat is for wounded service members and their families to celebrate rediscovering family-fun and togetherness after an injury.

As I met and registered the families for the retreat, it was clear to me how some families seemed disconnected, while others seemed excited with anticipation. It reminded me of my own joys and pains of being left behind during deployments with a young child. I was worried about my service member, yet upset he was leaving me with all of the responsibilities that I didn’t create alone.

Once everyone was registered and settled into their rooms, dinner was served! The parents were quiet and tired from traveling, and I assumed they were also probably nervous about the weekend ahead of them. But the kids were enjoying meeting one another, playing with the therapy dogs, chatting about the nature hikes, climbing the indoor rock wall, riding the giant swing, flying over the water on the zip line tower, canoeing and kayaking, eating s’mores at the campfire, arts and crafts, watching movies, and the numerous carnival games to come.

I’d be looking forward to a good night’s sleep, too, if I were those parents!

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At breakfast the next morning, the parents looked rested, and the kids were ready for all the activities. I could see the parents watching, taking pictures and videos, and talking amongst one another while the kids took on the activities, and I hoped they’d eventually join in the fun together as a family.

Then the magic happened: one father challenged his child to a zip line race, and one mother bonded with her child by seeing who could scream the loudest on the giant swing. And the next thing I knew, parents were bonding with their children by participating in all the activities, no matter what their injury.

After working up an appetite and eating an awesome lunch, the parents took part in the Operation Purple FOCUS (Families OverComing Under Stress™) Parent Groups. This allowed time for them to work together, with support, to enhance their relationships through communication activities aimed at building connections and family closeness.

During the FOCUS Parent Groups, the kids did more activities outside supervised by an amazing camp staff. At first, the parents were quiet, listening to the Operation Purple and FOCUS staff do all the talking. But one woman spoke up, sharing a personal story that many others could relate to, and pretty soon, all joined in, sharing their own experiences.

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At dinner, parents were busy talking about what went on during the Parent Group, while the kids continued to tire themselves out with more activities. I could see a difference in the families from the previous day, where most seemed to be at Healing Adventures for their kids, rather than themselves. But the next day, the parents found themselves again as husband and wife through togetherness, smiles, and hand-holding.

And on the last day, guess what? The parents realized for all the fun, food, and lodging, all they spent was time.

If you are a military family with a service member who is wounded, ill, injured, medically separated, or medically retired, and want to join us on an Operation Purple Healing Adventures, check out our website to see if a camp will be near you.

We can’t wait to see you!

nataliePosted by Natalie Mizell, Youth Initiatives Program Coordinator

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

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

Do You Support Military Families? Prince Harry Does!

Yesterday, I, and several other NMFA employees and volunteers had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Invictus Games event at Fort Belvior, where the First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, along with His Royal Highness Prince Harry spoke about the importance of the games.

During the event, sixteen service members demonstrated their talents in a thrilling wheelchair basketball game. I had never seen a game like this before, and I spent the entire time just enthralled with the incredible grit, athletic ability and spirt of the players on the court. I couldn’t help but get excited about watching the games live when they come to the US in May of 2016.

The Invictus Games are a big deal, because they are about so much more than just playing sports and competing with other countries. These games are a driving force behind recovery and rehabilitation for wounded, injured and sick service members.

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Prince Harry founded the Invictus games in the UK back in 2014, while serving in the military there. Reflecting on his two combat deployments in Afghanistan, he said “”There is very little that can truly prepare you for the reality of war. The experiences can be stark and long lasting.” This experience left him with a feeling of “responsibility to all veterans, who had made huge personal sacrifices for their countries, to lead healthy and dignified lives after service.”

The Invictus Games do just that. They bring recovering service members, and their families, together to focus on a goal, and work towards a better future together.

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Here at NMFA, we also understand the importance of bringing families together to help them adjust to a new normal after a service connected illness or injury. At our Operation Purple Healing Adventures® camp, service members and their families connect with others on a similar healing journey. They share the feelings, struggles, and obstacles they have overcome with other families who just ‘get it.’ All while enjoying active, nature centered activities.

For the caretakers and children of these wounded service members, seeing their loved one participating in sport and physical activities can be as equally cathartic. A huge part of the military culture is grounded in physical activity and competition, and you can see the joy and admiration in the faces of the families as they watch their loved ones enjoying the activities they played before their injury.

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Some of our service members show visible wounds–missing limbs and bodies marked by war–while others are battling invisible injuries. As many as 1 in 4 service members left Iraq and Afghanistan with brain injuries, PTSD, depression and anxiety. We are thrilled to see Invictus welcoming service members suffering from the invisible wounds of war, as well.

At Operation Purple, we often hear how difficult it can be for service members and their families to work through these invisible injuries. While the physical injuries take a toll on the body, the invisible wounded, like PTSD and anxiety, wreak havoc on the mind and soul. We’ve heard stories from families battling these ‘quiet’ injuries, that recovery isn’t always easy. But all families agreed: taking the first step and asking for help was the most important choice.

At the event, we were reminded only 1% of the country puts on a uniform and takes an oath to not leave a fallen comrade behind. We, as a country, take the same oath. We cannot leave them behind. We cannot leave their families behind.

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Supporting programs, like Invictus and Operation Purple, is an easy way to give back to these families and let them know that they are not forgotten and we will not leave them behind.

Do you know any service members hoping to compete at the Invictis games next year? Will you be watching?

HeatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager