I recently read an article where a retired military member talked about the variety of services that family members could utilize and that if they didn't use them, that it was essentially their fault. In other places, I have read that spouses often don't utilize their Family Support Groups, or Family Readiness Groups which is run by their command. If they don't utilize such programs put into place, again the fault lies on us. Always, such organizations like Military One Source, is the number one "go to person" that we all should lay our heavy burdens at their door. To be honest...all this pisses me off. I don't think its as simple as some military members say it is. If it were, we wouldn't be still searching for programs,speaking out, utilizing online programs and I would be running out of things to say in this blog!
The issues that I have is, that yes, there are programs out there through the military and other outlets but some are flawed so badly that we don't use them for a reason. Military One Source turned us away on many occasions, and after giving it one more college try so to speak, we called again. Two hours later, their answer was "We are unable to help with Post Traumatic Stress or Traumatic Brain Injury because that is considered medical and not under our programs. Your option and our job is to refer you to the Veterans Affairs". We had been in the VA system for three years. Over the past two years, this very thing is what is leading many people to turn to online resources and internet support groups. Looking over the emails I get, sorting and filing for writing purposes; I have to wonder why so many of us are experiencing the same thing, yet they keep pushing it? I have to wonder why it is that this program or others are constantly shoved out there as our savior to all that goes wrong? We weren't even able to get family counseling and what they did offer my family, was child therapy at the other side of the state. At this time, I was barely making it to buy groceries, living off a small tiny portion of 900.00 a month that took us three years to get. So how did they think I was going to be able to utilize six free sessions on the other side of the state, which was almost six-seven hours for us?
Warrior Family Support Centers are not the haven of mercy to run to according to many many folks who write in. A common statement that I get in emails is "What do you do when the military says they will help you if you come forward, then turn you away?". Many have written in that yes, they willingly went on post to the Warrior Family Support Centers and were offered help in some shape form or fashion. However, in that same outreached hand of support the underlying threat of "If you seek help, you do understand this will be on your record and you will get a profile for mental health. If you get the help and you admit you are having issues, you will more than likely get removed from service, you will have to find a new job, you will lose your housing, your insurance...is this really what you want to do?" Many find they back away because if they are career military, what else is there out there when that is your current lifestyle?
For an already messed up Veteran, this can cause them to back off when it probably took a good length of time just to get them to admit they need the help. The second issue that I see coming from all this, is wrong information being passed out such as usage and transfer of the GI Bill to spouses or children. For many, we are now learning that once the PEB starts...your GI Bill freezes and therefore unable to use it, transfer it etc. Many spouses and soldiers are hearing "don't worry about this until after medical board is finished" only to discover the one benefit you didn't think you had to fight for...is gone.
As one reader wrote that I thought summed it up very well was "the outreached hand of help smacks you pretty hard and it stings long after". I have to say I have wondered if we were Active component would it have been easier for us, but in truth if this was our entire life, I don't know what we would do. What if that is all we know and then suddenly PTSD took that all away? I have to wonder myself what we would have done. So is it best not to seek the help, but end up in worse shape than they already are in? It floors me why the military and the VA systems are still shocked that there are 18 suicides a day, and that's not counting the spouses who commit suicide. As of yet, that number is not being tracked.
Family Readiness Groups and Family Support are not always the best thing to say to turn to. Many are under educated, many don't want to be there but their husbands make them, have no resources and a bulk of them most spouses don't go to because many find that they are being judged. Many reported that Gossip is what keeps them from even attending the meetings, so why would they go and talk to the leaders for help? What people failed to realize is that FRG's and FSG's only can refer, not provide answers. I wish that they would make that statement more clear. I know this because I was a co-leader of our unit's Family Readiness Group and it used to make me so mad that we were not able to help our soldiers in the capacity that is needed. I was often reminded and smacked on the hand because I could not "provide help to one family or one soldier; it has to benefit the unit as a whole". This was the reason I left our Family Readiness Group. I felt too many were being turned away, and I refused to be one of them because I had been doing it on our own for a very long time. Some of these groups on post or off post are really wonderful with women or family members who are there because they want to be. Some groups are cohesive and work well together. Others do not work that way. I have to be honest to say, that before I came along in our FRG....the last place I would ever ever go to is our FRG. I believe that many good FRG/FSG leaders have found that our hands our tied when it comes to these situations by military rules. That is, of course, if they care enough about their position and their unit. I couldn't see why I had to turn away a soldier in times of need and help, but try to pacify them enough to sell them a cookie or unit t-shirt for an annual Christmas Party.
Utilizing the Commanders of units is also very difficult because you are plainly stating "Yep, I am not able to do my job under the guidelines you think I should be". In the last two years, I can't even count how many emails that Veterans have reported in that they went to their Command, and were either turned away, told that they would be removed from service, or their promotions would be turned down. I honestly think that the smoke screen the military put up here recently is just that....a covering. In my hopeful heart, I would like to think that the higher ups who are supposed to be training, setting forth new programs and trying to make changes, are actually doing it. However, sometimes the hardest hurdles are having to jump the higher ranks in your units. Once you get past that, you must then utilize the military doctors.
One reader made a powerful comment I felt was the Hallmark statement of how hard it is to get help. She said, "There is help, but who is the help serving? Even now I find myself questioning what the real intent is behind the "help". "If it is to dot the i's and cross the t's....it is gonna fall short, if it is to look good for political reasons - that is just wrong, if it is to prevent liability....shame on the system that created this monster. I know each case is different, but in our family's situation I do feel and continue to feel that the liability concern comes first and the humanity comes second. I have a very, very, very, very hard time dealing with this."
She also commented further, "In our case, the Army docs had one agenda: are you deployable or not. Remove that agenda, and the opportunity for treatment changes". When she wrote that, I sat back in my chair and chewed on that for a minute. I was like wow, that is the truth in our lives. It all comes down to being usable or not. Our military members have become expendable with very little disregard to what becomes of them after they are deemed unworthy.For all those who root on the family who stayed behind and kept the home fires burning.....they don't remember us at all.
Some readers felt their best choices for any resources were through Army Community Services. Some reported that a Federal Recovery Coordinator, Army Wounded Transition Unit Caseworker, or Reserve Recovery Coordinators were as close as they could get. However, getting those is not the easiest especially for those of us whose issues did not appear until after they had been home. I know for us, it took four years for someone to decide a Reserve and Federal Recovery Coordinators would be beneficial for us. Then you have to play Russian Roulette because you do have some who is only there to collect a paycheck. One reader felt that the Army Community Services worked fairly well for them and the issues of PTSD. However, as she cautioned, not all of them are going to be that way and there is always the concern of information disclosed because it is Active Duty. She stated in her experience that they had Counselors that didn't require appointments or even have to disclose your name. She felt in her experience, it was unusual but at least they were trying to work on breaking down the barriers and stigmas for families who were worried that their unit's Commanders would find out.
Other than that, a bulk of emails state they have no one to depend on or to get help from anyone but themselves. I can relate to the point of doing it alone strongly, because for the past four years? I have had to depend on no one but ourselves. My issue is that if the military is going to spend all this time and tax dollars putting people into place to help, or create programs...why not stay on top of them to ensure that the job is done? Why not spend just a little more and ensure that our Veterans are getting the "all" that they gave them during their service? Why not go one step ahead and prepare those who are Commanding units? This Mistress wonders why they simply can't take the time they are using to make it look like they are doing something....and actually do something. I can say that our Commander, always sort of looked like the proverbial deer caught in a headlight, because I don't think he understood what we were going through.
I get so tired and frustrated when the blame goes back on the family members. They don't give you a PTSD 101 for Dummies, an Army Manual for Idiots on TBI, or even warn you about the problems our Veterans could experience later on. They kind of sugar coat it and make it sound not so bad. We are much better off than our brothers and sisters before us in Vietnam,Gulf War and, all those in between like Somalia. I sincerely believe its because we are all standing up now and talking about it. I for one, do not think the family members should carry the blame from any of the military or VA because it's not our fault. We can only do so much and we aren't trained professionals or doctors. The military says well you should have done this or that. Ok, so then what? You boot them out maybe with a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress (if not a diagnosis of Personality Disorder) or if they are lucky, a Traumatic Brain Injury but then merely pass the buck to the VA. Once there, its here are some meds, and then let's send them right back to the families. We take them back and its "here is another pill". We are already carrying much of the blame because as family, we never stop wondering what we could have done, changed and always wondering what wrongs we could have righted. Is it really fair to have someone say that it's our fault?
I know for one I am not in the wrong. I have spent the last four years fighting like hell to just get treatment, ensure that its the right treatment and trying to get the Army to fix their mistakes that caused all this hell we have been living in since he came home in 2007. I have been spending the last four years of screaming when no one heard me because they were deafened by others all while being enclosed in a box with very high walls. To go through all this, read all of your emails and hear your stories...then hear people who have the nerve to say "well, if you can't get help, you have no one to blame but yourself" really makes this woman mad.
Personally, I got four years all in a notebook that states otherwise. Four years of scars, mental exhaustion, nails bore down to the quick from clawing my way out of the cracks we fell through and not much ahead of where we were four years ago. I wonder if those that make those comments of warning to our families and soldiers, clock out and go home and sleep peacefully at night. If they do, it must be nice....because I can guarantee for all of us? There is no such thing as clocking out.
We didn't fail. They failed us.