“Liz Snell wasn’t the type to step out ahead of her Marine. A good military wife, she believed, fell in line and worked quietly in the background. That’s why her volunteer resumé ran three pages long: She was a caseworker for families who needed financial advice. She coordinated job workshops for spouses who had to find new employment every time their warriors changed bases. She helped lead a volunteer program with the armed services branch of the Red Cross.
Liz’s medals were tokens of gratitude, small ways of recognizing that she served her country, too — reminders that America’s longest-running wars required military spouses to be strong and brave.”
The emotional pain of trauma survivors reaches outward and can affect the mental health of the children and families of warriors for a lifetime, including uncounted suicides of spouses, children, and loved ones. Military families are under great stress while soldiers and sailors are deployed for long periods of time. The same families become the care givers of our heroes when they come home…often for a lifetime. Family members who live with trauma survivors of war often become secondary victims of trauma, suffering from the same symptoms of PTSD and moral injury of combat veterans returning home.
My post WWII and Korean War US Navy family along with thousands of other military families were no exception. The difference during my time is that we were completely unaware of the symptoms of anxiety, depression, and panic attacks that created an angry and toxic family culture. Even though we learned about PTSD shortly after the end of the Vietnam War, and have since discovered appropriate alternative treatment strategies, America does not have the resources to help the affected military family as a whole. There is also a great deal of stigma attached to mental health treatment for fear of compromising employment opportunities.
Last May/June 2014, while visiting the American Military Family Museum, I spoke to an audience of mental health professionals at the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center in Albuquerque, NM. Following my talk about how families struggle as caregivers of warriors and often take on the same symptoms of PTSD, the clinical staff expressed a deep and emotional concern that they are unable to treat the whole family. I was told that they can barely treat the high numbers of combat veterans returning home and older veterans, let alone the whole family. In my view as a former military child growing up in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, that our lack of awareness and caregiving experience as a family, made matters at home exponentially worse. Living and growing up in an angry and toxic home culture is tragic. In the worst case scenario as in my case, our family was destroyed. Just as soon as we reached legal age, we escaped a home that was like living in a prison camp. We took all the anger and hate with us as adults.
In confronting my own demons from a toxic childhood, I researched, wrote, and published Reconciliation: A Son’s Story in November, 2011. My goal in revisiting the past was to first forgive myself so that forgiveness would fill my life with new found love and hope for the future. I found peace of mind. I wanted to help my own family heal as well.
My high level of awareness and continued writing and work with children and families in life after trauma gives me the fuel to maintain a sense of peace with the past, and hopefully help others find their own path of healing. The CNN reference article, The Uncounted, in my blog post today is one of the most revealing and powerful testimonials showing how war damages the hearts and souls of military families… The most critical outcome and benefit of sharing these stories of trauma survival is to help mitigate the stigma connected with mental health treatment for the family as a whole. Do not allow denial to keep the pain of trauma bottled up inside of you and your family. Encouraging early treatment with a sense of urgency to save the lives of trauma victims offers the most hope for long term recovery and healing.