In our first conversation, Coming Home: Veterans Readjusting to Civilian Life, our contributors — including veterans, family members of veterans and members of organizations that support veterans — share their own stories, offer insights on the challenges facing returning veterans, and provide tips and resources on the kinds of support that families, friends and communities can offer veterans.
My blog, Some Soldier's Mom, followed my son through his deployment, his wounding, his evacuation and our journey to Germany, his return home, the memorial services and funerals attended for many of his friends, his efforts to handle his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) himself and his subsequent acceptance of formal care for his invisible wounds. We — his parents, family and friends — were drawn into this nightmare by our love for our soldier; we have spent countless hours researching, learning, supporting and advocating.
Through all of this, we have tracked his progress — both the steps forward and the steps back. I have ranted, raved, blogged and asked the obvious questions about diagnosis, treatment and the stigma of PTSD. I have blogged many times about the changes in our son.
For those that truly have PTSD — that is, when the symptoms of post-traumatic stress (PTS) have become chronic — it is the bogeyman behind every door, hiding in every shadow; it is the invisible monster that has stolen the smiles and maybe even a part of these soldiers' souls. These young men and women fight every day trying to get that stolen piece back and to keep from losing more. It can be incredibly tough for those veterans and hard for their families.
Unfortunately, during our journey of support for our son, we learned that the military services had not focused on preparing parents (or other non-spousal next of kin) for the arrival home of the combat veteran who suffers from PTS or PTSD. Unlike spouses, who usually live near the point of deployment and who receive information and counseling during deployment and before their spouse's redeployment (return stateside), parents or others to whom unmarried soldiers/veterans return do not have access to the information or facilities that they need in order to assist in the reintegration of their family member.
Almost 50 percent of soldiers and Marines who bear the brunt of combat action are unmarried. Some, once-married, will find themselves divorced after they return. Many of the troops who are and have been deployed are citizen soldiers — National Guard and Reserve — and have families that live far from military installations and services. These soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen are discharged back to the places and people they came from, and for the most part, the people they are returning to are ill-equipped to identify — let alone deal with — the trauma their family member has experienced. Embarrassingly, there has been little effort until recently to reach out to those who live with, care for or who care about these soldiers and combat veterans and who are not married to them. In an exchange with the Secretary of the Army last year, I said I knew that there was a legal distinction between communications with spouses and communications with parents of adult children, but pointed out that perhaps a starting point for such communications could be with the "next-of-kin" every soldier has to designate for official notifications even if soldiers preferred not to have parents involved.
As parents, we feel helpless when we cannot send away our child's nightmares, cannot ease the fitful sleep, cannot avoid nor abate the anger that is not really about us, cannot fix nor mend the inattention, the forgetfulness, nor the moodiness. We feel powerless when our soldier or Marine is having one of "those" days, or he/she is in one of "those" moods. I only half-joke that I gave birth to one child named Noah, but live with two Noahs and am never sure which one will walk into a room! Or, as my girlfriend S.L. used to say, "If it wasn't the same name and face, I'd swear this wasn't my son." When there are problems, we family members typically have little familiarity with our family member's installation or chain of command, and few of us have any idea where to turn for information on what services/benefits are available and how to get them for our soldier/veteran or ourselves.
In the past two years, the services have made some progress in disseminating information to non-spousal family in their efforts to assist military members and veterans, and making sure that they receive all the help and benefits they have earned. Many of the services now have links on their websites for resources for families. Although the information is still almost exclusively targeted to spouses, the information and links to resources are available and can be useful to all family members.
There are many useful tools, as well as private and government sites available for those or those that suspect they or someone they love is suffering with post-traumatic stress (note that some of these tools are rather technical in nature).
Veterans should start at www.va.gov.
Some other sites with information I have found useful are:
Iraq War Clinician Guide, 2Ed. (technical)
Deployment Health Clinical Center/PTSD
Dept. of Veterans Affairs: National Center for PTSD
PTSD Combat: Winning the War Within (Info Blog)
Bottom line: If you have PTS or PTSD — or you believe your family member is suffering from PTS or PTSD and it is not getting better: GET HELP. Treatment can work. Your life can be better.
Blogger, Some Soldier's Mom. On what it's like to have a child at war.
Looking Back on Five Years of Lessons Learned as a Soldier's Mom »
Vigilance: The Good Kind »
The Bonds That Tie »
The Tradition of the Christmas Tree »
PTSD: A Different Perspective, Part II »