Save a life by sharing your story
This was first posted by Military Missions Inc.
When it comes to the world of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), the invisible wounds of war, most of us have a tendency not to share our stories. There is an automatic respect given to those who come home from war with physical wounds, but for those who come home with mental wounds, we often look the other way or make judgments without understanding all the facts.
No one wants to talk about the way life turns out for those living with combat trauma because most of the time, it’s not pretty.
The experts will tell you that up to 20% of our troops are affected, but I beg to differ. How can anyone serve multiple deployments, or even one deployment, in a war zone and come home unchanged?
The changes may be subtle at first, but for most of us who have a loved one dealing with invisible wounds, we can tell you that sometimes the symptomatic behaviors will come out of nowhere. Many of us find ourselves trying to get to know a completely different person than the one we relinquished to the War on Terror.
There are countless articles out there to educate us on the symptoms of PTSD and TBI. If you read enough of these articles, you can list the symptoms in your sleep, but it’s really hard to find someone who can help you learn how to live with the symptoms, especially if you are suffering in silence.
The stigma is stifling, therefore most will never step up and ask for help until the problem has manifested into a level out of control.
When it began to sink in that my son might be dealing with PTSD and TBI, I had no idea what to do. The incident that we later found to be the cause of his brain injury had taken place almost three years earlier. The subtle changes crept in and took over before any of us understood what was happening. We had enough sense to know that three combat deployments must have had an effect on our child, but we had no idea what to do because we have never been to war ourselves.
Because we had no “incident” in the recent past, which defined when a change should have taken place, we began to get frustrated, wondering why he was so easily agitated, and never able to relax. We took it personally when he overreacted with outbursts of anger, and we found it difficult to be around a once very funny and happy guy who now seemed to be down in the dumps more days than not. When we tried to talk with him, it was as if reasoning skills had flown out the window and we found that we were growing further and further apart from our son.
The pressure being put on him, by the Marine Corps, to suck it up and get on with life was taking its toll and of course, we were forbidden to call the Marine Corps to get information. For six years, we had been well trained and we knew well that Mommy and Daddy do not call the Marine Corps…..ever!
We were six hundred miles away from our son’s base and we had no idea how we could be of any help from such a distance. We looked around at the many friends we had with military children and things looked pretty good on their side of the fence. We were too proud to mention what was going on, especially because we were considered leaders in the military support community.
The sad reality, three years later, is that I now know that each and every one of our friends with military children are all struggling with some aspect of PTSD and/or TBI. I don’t know a single family with a combat veteran who doesn’t have some sort of struggle. There was one family who seemed to have the picture perfect soldier, but even he, I just recently found out, is dealing with post traumatic stress.
I’ve been to two funerals for Marines who have committed suicide. I have one friend whose son died because he took his overprescribed medication just as the VA doctor ordered. I have another friend who buried his son because his boy took something to help him sleep and escape the nightmares after returning home from his second combat deployment. Another friend’s son is likely headed for divorce, and two vets I’ve known for years, have faced legal issues because their flashbacks took place in public places which landed them in the midst of a crisis with first responders who were not certified with Critical Response Training which would have helped the officers to deal more effectively with the post traumatic stress driving the situation.
The war has changed all of these men. 100% of the families we know have been affected by this war. That’s a far cry from the 20% we are told about in the news.
I struggled with our little “secret” for at least a year before I finally opened up and admitted life wasn’t perfect for our family. When I allowed myself to swallow my pride and tell a few close friends what we were dealing with, I was shocked to find out that I was not alone.
I wasn’t glad to find out that others were suffering, but I was empowered to become more transparent. Having founded a nonprofit, I had been given a voice in the military community, but I had no idea that I might be using that voice to address a battle against the stigma of invisible wounds of war using my own personal experience as the cornerstone.
Allowing myself to tell a friend was just the beginning. In the two years that followed, I learned how to exercise my rights as a taxpaying American citizen, to contact the many lawmakers we have elected to serve on our behalf and ask them to earn the paycheck I help to fund year in and year out. I learned to step out of my comfort zone and stand toe to toe with the highest ranking Marine officers to expose a problem that was being covered up, ignored, and swept under the rug. I even hosted a DoD Inspector Generals team meeting in my home for four days when they called me one day, out of the blue, and told me they were interested in talking to me about all the reports I had been filing.
Part of the reason I learned to step into such dangerous territory was because there were others who came before me. A soldier’s mom took on the Army. When I read her story in the New York Times, it empowered me to speak up for my own son. I was still afraid, but I couldn’t let my own kid down especially if someone else’s mom was able to stand up to the system!
Ten years of war has taken its toll. Troops are suffering. Their families are suffering. Most are still silent because they watch the rest of us fight an uphill battle that never seems to end. For every one of us who stands up to fight for quality health care and respect, there are ten bullies ready and willing to squash our efforts.
Please don’t let that silence you!
If you are dealing with the invisible wounds of war, rather it be personally, or because your loved one has served, please don’t carry this burden alone. There are thousands upon thousands of us out here who can benefit from the de-stigmatization of PTSD and TBI. We can make a louder noise if we speak out together and with enough persistence, we can demand better care for our combat veterans living with PTSD and TBI.
Please contact us at Military Missions if you need support. We may not have all the answers, but we will sure do our best to help you find the support system you need to live life despite the invisible wounds of war.