Dear LT General Jeffrey Talley, I have watched as you have sputtered out some reason or rhyme for the suicide rates that were so high this past Summer and all of the comments you made that were published by many newspapers. One that highly interested and bothered me was the one where you stated,
"We're now having more deaths from suicide than combat losses," Talley said. "The challenge we've got there is how do we stop that enemy called suicide. All of the Army leaders are working every day to try to defeat that enemy, and there's no simple solution or silver bullet. We've studied it ad-nauseum." But Talley said in the Reserve, there are many suicides that don't appear to be linked to the stress of combat."
In another, you stated that
“Suicide is a soldier, family and institutional tragedy that all of us must work together to defeat. In the Army Reserve, I have asked our leaders to focus on a very basic tenet of leadership -- know your soldiers, civilians, and their families. Remind them that they are part of the Army family, and as a family we will address the challenges and stresses of life together,” said Lt. Gen. Jeffrey W. Talley, chief of Army Reserve and commanding general, U.S. Army Reserve Command".
Respectfully Sir, I feel this is a load of bull and I challenge you personally, to show me where this family is that you speak of? One comment you left for the news stated that the suicide rates kept you up at nights. I bet that must be hard losing that much sleep if you say it does keep you up at night. On behalf of many many families still wandering around, fighting like caged animals against something we have no idea what we are battling against; I openly and respectfully invite you to come home to "your family" for a visit. You state that our Reserve soldiers are family and that their families are the Army's family. I extend the invitation to come see how the "Army Family" really works. To battle the suicide numbers, I extend the challenge of you showing me where "our family" was when I needed them the most. I challenge you to be on one side of the story you missed by being behind a desk and see for yourself how we see it. We do not see leaders working hard, we damn sure don't see them working with us. If nothing more, they are working against us. If you are baffled that some suicides are not combat stress related, you have missed more of the real life pictures many of us have tried to voice.
I challenge you to be on the end of a deployment with a soldier who was full of life only to come home with the last words on a call from Iraq stating "I don't want to come home, I want to die here". I want you to understand that my vibrant, strong and once loving husband walked off the plane alone, with no "family" and I almost missed him because at 31, he looked 50 with a solid head of white hair and walked like an old man. I invite you to come home for a visit and meet the ghosts of war that he has haunting him. Ones that haunt us daily and nightly, with no relief. A position he was asked to be put in, although that wasn't his MOS. Still, he did so proudly only to get the run around for acknowledgement from the "family". He was depended on heavily because of his civilian training and expertise, something you never counted on but many of our brothers and sisters did. We would like to to show you why we felt we got punished by the Army although he served and did more than he asked by serving dual positions. Dual positions that also included working for the Marines as their medic as asked by "our family". He did a job filled with so many horrid memories and injuries that we never received compensation, awards or even acknowledged because some of our "family" members didn't do their jobs. Family you say, that should know our last names and their families, let us down. I beg you to stop and visit your brother who went from holding down a job and living a normal life to that of a man who is and empty shell of what used to be. Come on by Sir, and see how your family is doing.
I invite you to share and compare your all nighters from the worries of suicide, to that of a night filled with sleep walking, night terrors and screams for the years I have endured. For the past five years, I'd like you to step into our family for just one week and see the home that was broken down by service. A home that was once filled with love, respect and laughter. I'll put some coffee on and keep it coming, because I haven't had a good nights sleep since he came home. I will have a clean bed for you, keep your belly full of food but there will be no real smiles from your family, Sir. I will try to put on a fake one but that laughter and joy was robbed from us long ago.
While we sip our coffee, let us tell you a story of how we slipped through the cracks like many National Guard and Army Reservists. How in a moment of completely giving up I would have lost my husband to a pistol. That .38 Sir, was loaded by "our family" because we were thrown away and he thought that we would be better off without him. We got left behind with no one to care. That family you speak so high of? No one was there to save him but me. Never heard from them again after a suicide attempt that I stopped just because I happened to walk in for something. Want to have something chilling and alarming to keep you up at nights? Listen to those screams of a man you no longer know, watch the tears fall away and feel helpless because you don't know how to make it all better. Listen to that gun being clicked back and know that the world and his life rests solely on your shoulders. That should keep you up more than a few nights. I know it has me.
While you are at it, for one week I would like you to depend on the VA system for medical care solely. Walk in there, have the life sucked out of you, have people treat you like just another social security number and hand you a bunch of pills. It's just a stockyard filled with discarded cattle awaiting the slaughterhouse. Go years without someone knowing what Traumatic Brain Injury is or what to do for it. Find yourself in the position of losing the promotion you worked so hard for because you were issued a P3 Profile for seeking that help the Army so passionately claims is easy to get because well, leadership is there for us. You have studied it "ad-nauseam" was it? That P3 kept him from going to training so therefore no promotion. 15 years of service and just a SGT, Sir. No awards, no CABS, no Purple Hearts, nothing. All lost because that "family" just didn't care. Nothing to show for it but ghosts and a shadow of a combat Veteran. While you are here, let me show you how we almost lost our home. Our vehicles. How we went for months with no payment. Let me explain why we couldn't apply for TSGLI or incapacitation pay when his health turned drastically and declined. I bet living on 900.00 a month for a family of five would keep you up at nights. We have our "family" to thank for that. Let me show you how Military One Source really works for our soldiers. Let me show you how those magnets and brochures you all pass out for help, sits collecting dust because they are flawed. Let me show you first hand there is no where to run or no where to hide.
When you apply for benefits or seek that health treatment, see how personal they get with you. Let's take a closer look at how the unit follows up. I remember calling the Commander of the Unit to let him know that my husband was hospitalized for suicide. There was no concern, no apology in his voice or sorrow. It was "Well. I take it he won't be in for drill this weekend?" As a family member who has solely depended on and given all to the military, just went through the most horrific thing that still haunts me today; depended on "our family" to turn to and what was their biggest concern? Keeping that Battalion number up. Make sure to bring a doctor's excuse. Sure. "To Whom It May Concern, we just lost everything we ever had to work for in our lives, explained to our children that we didn't have money for food so keep it light, and well the soldier tried to shoot himself over the weekend. Due to his collapse and being over medicated, he will not be in to drill". His first bad mark against his record in 15 combined years with the National Guard and Reserves. Get that love, leadership from "your family" and see how you feel. Top that with the civilian job who nicely told you not to come back because you are "crazy".
While you are here, I want you to meet my three children who are wiser and older than their real ages. Three beautiful children watching their mom trying to save their family and keep their heads above water. Let them show you how we manage on our own without a father figure. How mom is all the family they have. I openly invite you to come in to see how it is to be a single parent in a marriage. Go five years and see the declining roles of a marriage that went from strong to weak to broken. I lost my husband a long time ago and now simply just a caregiver that takes care of someone who can no longer because of missed diagnosis of TBI. I want you to clean up the messes of disappointment, here the echoes of a 6 year old wanting to know if daddy is sick again. I want you while here, watch your loved one struggle to read or to keep up with a newspaper. To see first hand, what he said five minutes ago is repeated over and over again. During your visit, I will let you travel back and forth to doctor's who simply hand the next VA approved pill that they aren't even paying attention to. Watch how they just shuffle you in and shuffle you out all while looking at the clock.
Perhaps while you are here, we can tell you some of our stories. We have a lot. Some that one would wonder how the hell we made it through with only scars to show. The war didn't end here, but somehow I don't think you really see that. I want you to wake up on my side of the bed knowing that your day will be filled with trying to carry the world on your shoulders and knowing that you don't have anything that is your own anymore because its all based on your husband's moods or health problems that day. You are family right? Family sticks together through thick and thin. I invite you to come in and help me carry some of the burden. I will even try to put a smile on just for you even though I feel like I am dying a little as each year goes by. Let me show you how the motto of "Leave No Man Behind" only extends during war conditions.
I dusted off the flag my husband was semi-tossed, the other night and I thought of you. I wonder if you truly stay awake at night? Have you spoken to the families personally who lost their husbands, sons, daughters, brothers, wives to suicide? Have you picked up the phone? Sent a letter? I didn't think so. If you did, I guessed you missed this part of your family's phone number. This family you speak of so highly left many of us behind and closed the doors. We didn't hear from our "family" unless I was late on turning in a doctors note that was a fight and long wait to get from the VA. Never did I hear from them again until we got an Army Reserve Recovery who had to initiate communication.
We were one of those that were never ashamed of my husband's PTSD or TBI. We encouraged those in our unit and as FRG, often stayed many late hours on drill weekends speaking to soldiers who were scared. We saw the look of fear on the officer's faces and one time we heard as we were coming up the hall, "SGT so and so is crazier than hell". We heard the statement of "We just don't know what to do with you" with the look of confusion as if we just landed from another planet. That's what we got from our family. A family that we built our lives around. That "institution" that you speak of, we signed up for and gave all as a family. We were prepared for death. We were prepared for him being gone. "Family" didn't prepare us for any of this and still to this day, they aren't. It was important to us to not only serve that institution but be willing to give all we had, including his life. Never again though, will I allow a military higher up make me hang my head in shame. Want to know how we knew our Command and Battalion had changed hands? "Family Day" and Change of Command Ceremony was? By reading it in the local newspaper. We obviously weren't invited by our family. The past two years has been filled working for the MEB and still, no concern or care from the unit as to how their family is doing.
The only reason Sir, the unit knows our name is because I made sure people remembered it. I refused to let my husband and others just be another number. I didn't want to be discarded as just a number in a Battalion. I made sure that our past Commanding Officer knew our last name. Our new one has not been in touch with us personally and he probably could not tell you how many children we have or how many of his lower enlisted families he has in that unit.
As a writer, I deal with emails every day. This is our story. There are many just like it. Maybe in your office that "family" crap you are trying to spin works. Maybe in your world, it does. However, here? Your whole spin on family and brotherhood doesn't sit too well. Matter of a fact, I don't think out of the three years I have been writing that I have ever seen one positive thing from anyone in a leadership position that helped a soldier. All we ever hear is how we are the Army of One. There is No Army of One, Sir. There is only black, white and gray held together with a bunch of criss crossed red tape.We can't access posts due to geographical challenges or utilize medical care. Some units don't deploy as a whole but solely as individuals with people they don't know and will never see again. Many can't apply to most non-profit organizations because we are Reserves and National Guard members. Many of us deployed and lost income that impacted our families because it was less than what we made in civilian jobs. Many of us are still hearing the threat of MEB if we whisper the words of TBI and PTSD. I invite you to my readers, Sir and we will take a road trip to the surrounding units to hear first hand from all of these family members.
I had to fight for what we have right now. I challenge you to come in and try to work on all of this MEB paperwork and hope like hell my husband's injuries are enough to get that precious health insurance. It obviously wasn't important during war time because they didn't treat him then. "Take some Ibuprofen and a nap then get back to it". Now that Ibuprofen and no nap left him five years later with Central Nervous System Impairments, communication, speech and language impairments with many many others. How would you feel when a doctor lays one on top of another and tells you, this is expected and will get worse? I can assure you the nights you lost over sleep from suicide rates, doesn't compare to the thousands of us who never sleep. I invite you to see first hand the war didn't end for all of us....its just begun. The battlefield only changed.
You may sit behind your desk, hold some meetings, spew forth some ideas you have because you aren't living our lives and think that you have an idea. The cold hard truth of it is that you don't. You may tell your leaders under you that this is unacceptable. Maybe just maybe, if we are lucky and those soldiers care...they might talk to the next. In most of our experiences? Somewhere down the line, that talk you are giving is still tied with stigmas of "don't be weak" and other derogatory comments. Somewhere beyond the higher echelons of the military on down, that order is being ignored by those who just don't care and aren't listening.Let's face it, these issues have been long standing. It's just that the media put you in the hot seat and you had to address it. When you do though...please don't use the word "family" because that is far from a description of what the Reserves really is. When we became broken, we became throw aways, expendable, and no "family" to be seen or heard from again.
If you want to lessen the suicide rates, listen to us families as we cry out. Listen to our stories. I bet you would lose more sleep than just being in the hot seat for a comment for a few newspapers. Come see what the broken side of this family looks like. Come see the homes and families the Army tore down. Talk with us and listen. Its easy to sit behind a desk and think you know what we need. Maybe by getting your hands dirty you will actually see what we go through and see how the one thing we thought we could count on, because we gave it 100% all the way....simply shut the door and left us behind. I want you to feel that emptiness. I want you to feel the loss, the loneliness, the confusion as to why you were suddenly casted out. Feel the pain and feel the sadness of what once was and what is now. I challenge you LT General Talley to come see for yourself what its really like in our worlds. Perhaps you will rethink that "family" remark. Institution? I don't see the Army Reserves jumping in to make sure any family is taken care of. It's all about getting you out and replacing you. We were there for our family though when that institution and our country needed us. Where were you?
I challenge you to come up with a better explanation than its the family, institution and soldier working together. So far? Its been the soldier and their own who has made their way through this day by day. If this is what you call family....perhaps you need to reevaluate what you consider family. On behalf of every Army Reservists, National Guard, and Army soldier and families. On behalf of all the Marines, Air Force and Navy....I challenge you to see for yourself exactly how this family unit works in any branch. We didn't fail you, Sir. You failed us. Our own "family" turned us away and we became the unwanted house guest that has overstayed their welcome. This is how we are treated.
I invite you to hear all the echoes as many Reservists who are in the same position or possibly even worse as many don't know how to fight back or have the strength to, are resounding off empty walls of their homes and are the same. I openly challenge you to come see for yourself how war tears a family apart and why many feel that suicide is the only way out. For every story, for every word spoken...there are many behind it who sees nothing more a military branch that failed its heroes. For every one of us, there is a story so sad that I don't believe you could truly ever sleep again. For every soldier's story that is there, I challenge you to listen to the spouses who just doesn't know what to do.
Lastly, I want you to remember we knew what we signed up for. We were all willing to give to our country and our service giving our lives if needed. That we don't have any regrets. We thought we could get our benefits that were promised and earned. We thought we would be taken care of when they got hurt. Never in a million years did I think I would hear that Drill Weekend numbers/head count were more important than a soldier who never missed a day, who was an outstanding hero during war, and who gave more than what he had to give. This is what we got in return as well as so many others. I challenge you respectfully, Sir to see how wrong you are with your comments and perhaps once you do, then you have a reason to state how many nights sleep you have missed. I can guarantee you its not as many as most of us.
I don't really expect you to answer or comment but am hoping somewhere along the line, this gets passed along. I think its needed because quite honestly, I am tired of seeing your prompt and fancy manicured lines thrown here and there in hopes that no one calls you out. I am, however, calling you out. I don't want you to see this as an angry letter but one that is educational and just pointing out the obvious elephant in the room. If you think leadership needs to understand more? Hold them responsible for not checking on their families; for not knowing their names. The time has come and long been over due that the change needs to start with where it all began. This blog is just an invitation to show you a side you are obviously missing. Ask those Reservist's families if the suicides were combat/service related. I bet you will hear a different opinion.
You have an invitation to come around anytime you are available and I will let you see first hand how your idea of "family" really is. Perhaps you can see the shattered hearts and pieces that are left. I want you to see all of our struggles, and the hardships ALL of us have endured. We can throw some food on the grill and just sit outside talking. I promise I won't treat you like we have been treated. It's been five years this month. We can celebrate that our family has come this far on our own. Time is all I have now and perhaps you can see the price that we are paying if you should so choose. After all...we are family right? Maybe after your family visit....you can see first hand how foolish your words ring in many of our ears. My invitation is open always. Any time, Any place.
Respectfully and Sincerely on Behalf of All Of Us Black Sheep of the Family,