On the Regarding War blog, soldiers, veterans, and journalists will share their stories from Afghanistan, Iraq and other war zones. It will feature personal stories and opinions from those who have first-hand knowledge of past and current conflicts. Those at home directly affected by a family member serving in the military will also contribute. The blog is meant to be a place where ideas are exchanged and experiences are related in an effort to gain a better understanding of the realities and effects of war. Share your thoughts, raise a question, and join the conversation by leaving comments on the posts.
Stacy Bannerman is the author of When the War Came Home: The Inside Story of Reservists and the Families They Leave Behind. When her husband was mobilized for his first deployment with the Army National Guard in 2003, Stacy began advocating for the troops and their families, and has emerged as a national leader on the home front impacts of the war in Iraq. She is the force behind the Military Family Leave Act of 2009, and is currently working to secure sponsors for the Military Family Mental Health Improvement Act of 2010. You can learn more about Stacy and her work at her website. As means of an introduction, we asked Stacy a handful of questions about her advocacy efforts and the government's support of its troop and veterans and their families.
Where are you from? Where do you live now?
I was born and raised in North Dakota, and met and married my husband in Spokane, Washington, while I was serving as the Executive Director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center. This was prior to his re-enlistment in the Guard. We moved to the Seattle area in 2003, a few months before his first mobilization preceding deployment in 2004. I re-located to southern Oregon in 2008, several months before his second tour in Iraq.
How and when did you become an advocate for post-combat care for veterans?
My advocacy work includes troops, military families and veterans. I stepped up my activism shortly after my husband was mobilized in 2003, when I joined Military Families Speak Out, which was calling for an end to the war in Iraq. The decision to declare war is the single most critical factor for our men and women in uniform, military families and veterans. If we get that wrong, then everything that comes afterwards — including the nation's willingness to sacrifice for the war; the duration and severity of the mental health issues suffered by the troops, veterans and military families; their capacity to endure multiple deployments and the ability to recover from bearing the burdens of war — is profoundly and detrimentally affected.
I increased my advocacy for post-combat care for veterans in 2006, after struggling with post-combat reintegration when my husband returned from his first deployment. And then I kept meeting and hearing from hundreds of veterans and military families members with heartbreaking accounts of losing their loved one after they made it back from combat. In 2007, I began focusing my efforts on military spouses, Guard & Reserve families and women veterans, providing a Sanctuary Weekend for Women Veterans and Camp Howdy for children of deployed National Guard soldiers.
Can you describe your past and current efforts in Washington to effect change?
In 2004, I was part of a contingent from Military Families Speak Out that went to Washington D.C. for a scheduled meeting with Senator John Warner, then Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The Senator failed to show up for our meeting.
I spearheaded Operation House Call in 2006, and spent the summer on the Hill, meeting with members of Congress on behalf of veterans and military families, while pressing for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. During that time, I had a lengthy conversation with then-Senator Obama about ending the war in Iraq. I spent the first part of 2007 living in Washington D.C. as a volunteer lobbyist for veterans and military families.
I have provided testimony to several Congressional committees, including the House Appropriations Sub-Committee on Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs (2006).
I successfully petitioned Congress to convene the first-ever hearings on the mental health impacts of the wars in military families, and testified before a House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee (2008).
In 2009, I delivered testimony to the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel.
In April of 2010, I was invited to the first-ever Military Spouse Summit hosted by the Congressional Military Family Caucus in Washington D.C., where I spoke to the vast differentials in support for families of deployed reservists, and offered suggestions for service improvements, including language for the Military Family Mental Health Improvement Act of 2010.
In my efforts to improve support and services for military families, and advocate for comprehensive post-combat care for veterans, I have met with over 70 Senators and Congressmen. At the request of the office of the Speaker of the House, in 2007 I submitted a proposal to establish a Military Citizens/Families Advisory Board, and am currently working with the office of legislative counsel in Oregon to draft legislation to create the first state Military Family Advisory Council. I successfully spearheaded state and national legislative campaigns for military family leave, resulting in passage of Oregon H.B. 2744, and the introduction of the federal Military Family Leave Act of 2009, which passed out of the House in June of this year, and is pending in the Senate.
How many years was your husband in the Army National Guard before getting deployed to Iraq?
He had about 15 years in the Guard, and got out around 1996, nearly three years before we met. About a year later, sometime in 2000 I believe, the Guard called and asked him to re-up, citing the benefits, service to community and state, and the assurance he wouldn't be deployed.
Which was harder, being separated during his deployment or trying to reconnect after the time spent apart?
That's an apples and oranges comparison, and it depends on the nature of the deployment and the military occupational specialty (MOS). That said, it was the separation during deployment — the second was 12 months without seeing him, every single day fearing for his safety. This was exacerbated by the social isolation and lack of peer support.
What do you see as the biggest area of weakness in terms of the government's support for families of National Guard reservists?
Failure to increase funding for Guard family programs in line with current and future demands on Reserve forces and their families. On a per capita basis, the National Guard is the most poorly funded branch of the Armed Services, even though they have served the longest Iraq deployments since 2001, and at times have provided more than 50 percent of the troops in Iraq. The Guard has been operationalized; family programs have not. This is not a failure of the Guard, per se. Rather, it is the failure of a Congress that appears unwilling to acknowledge the differential impacts of these wars on Guard families, soldiers and veterans, who have higher rates of combat-related stress, and more behavioral issues in non-deployed family members, among other things. Another major challenge is that up to 50 percent or more of our Guardsmen experience unemployment between tours, which is not necessarily ameliorated by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), as a growing number of Reservists are timing out of that.
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