The Zombie Apocalypse: Mental Health For Military Families

sad soldier

Having been an Army wife for nearly two decades now, I often lose sleep over military families. I have seen people with PTSD.  I have seen them grapple with the newly coined Secondary PTSD. I am struck by the host of familial problems that come with repeat combat deployments in a climate of an OpTempo that is insane and inhumane.

Statistically, we can probably make a case that 90-95 percent of these military family members will never commit suicide.  But they are the walking dead.

Jacey Eckhart wrote this week downplaying the threatened “storm” of military family suicides.  I think she– and many others– are missing something important. Because a funny thing happens in prolonged stress and trauma called disassociation.

If you have lived on any Army installation in the past eleven years you have learned to notice the very real look of disassociation.  It’s in the glazed over eyes.  The apathy. The zombie-like “left-right-left when you’re going through hell just keep going left-right-left” drudging along year after year.

The general lack of hooah from military spouse to soldier is not often mentioned in polite company.  It lies like a serpent in wait for that stolen moment in private conversation.

I will second Jacey’s belief that a coming military family suicide wave is statistically improbable.  But the Zombie Apocalypse of mental health issues is already here, lurching for resources, moaning for recognition and sadly rarely being answered.

If we learned anything post-Vietnam it is that the bills of veteran health come due 30-40 years after engagement.  To think that there is not a coming wave of military family mental health issues is naïve.

Even if we accept at face value the DoD’s recent claim that they do not keep family mental health statistics (even though military dependents medical information is of record in DEERs and even though any resulting suicide would surely be annotated on the cause of death line in a DEERs update) mental health care is severely lacking for military dependents and service members alike.

I urge the President to allocate resources for an independent research study on military family mental health, now, today, not 30-40 years from now.

As an Organizational Behaviorist by profession, I know that the real data is unlikely to be mined by the DoD.  It’s too close to the proverbial fire and has too much personal bias.  Instead, the DoD should cooperate with a leading university who can be impartial and more results oriented.

The very real stigma of mental health care still exists and most people seeking care are still turned away and if they find care it is off, not on post.

We are not receiving adequate mental health care.  That is the real issue here.  Suicides will always be a tiny minority at the tip of the iceberg which is military family mental health issues.  We should not be counted only when placed in the ground.

Sabrina King is an Army spouse married to an active duty soldier for nearing two decades.  She is the daughter of a Vietnam era vet, the granddaughter of a retired Naval officer, and the mother of a soon to be Naval recruit. She currently resides in New York State.








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10 Comments on "The Zombie Apocalypse: Mental Health For Military Families"

  1. The hoops we have to jump through as well as the lack of availability of help are huge issues. We are ignored, we are told to just suck it up, to just handle it by our own community, and made to feel weak if we admit to needing help. We understand the $$ are lacking, but knowing that the coming cuts are going to slice the deepest at family support – doesn't give anyone a good feeling. YES, we know that this is the Department of Defense, that they weren't set up to help the families, but when families are cracking, the foundation of that soldier/sailor/Marine/airman is crumbling too. I personally think that having alternatives presented to the person seeking help, having the people at behavioral health or chaplains office able to give a list of other mental support groups would be a good first step. No, we shouldn't only be counted when we are dead – but admitting that there is an issue would be another good step. Having suicide prevention/stand downs that do NOT address the issues families are dealing with, that do not invite the families to join – is a step backwards.

  2. Tricia Radenz | January 31, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
  3. Where I live, even active duty servicemembers are seen out in town for mental health issues. The military facilities appear to be overwhelmed but I haven't asked any of them if they are choosing civilian providers or if they are being forced out due to an inability for the military to handle the case load. In terms of family help, the military is going to help their servicemembers first. They are the ones the government is obligated to provide services to, due to the signing of the contract when they joined or reenlisted.

    • I think there needs to be a greater focus in providing information about civilian providers. We can bang our heads on the wall all day trying to get the government to prioritize our needs and give us the needed resources, but nothing will get accomplished in trying to alleviate our current level of need. Maybe in 5 years when they are done with all their studies and their arguments about funding. All I see with that scenario is a bunch of blaming, feeling like a victim and frustration instead of taking It upon ourselves to get what we need to heal. With all this talk of cutbacks, where is the money going to come from to finance all these programs for the families? At this point in the game, our best hope for receiving help is from our local civilian community.

  4. yesterdazenews | January 31, 2013 at 5:33 pm |

    I am a soon to be divorced Army spouse and I whole heartedly agree that mental health care on post or in the military community is severely lacking. I watched my ex husband suffer from severe ptsd after his deployment to Somalia that has left him living in a bottle and completely absent from his son's life. I suffer from ptsd from him literally trying to kill me on numerous occassions since his return. To date he has never been able to be treated for his ptsd. I have now moved on with my life and have been married for the past 8 years to another soldier who also now suffers from ptsd and have had to endure years of outbursts and physical threats for my life, all under the Army's watch. The Army shrugged his behavior off to nothing more than anger issues, anger issues he never had before his first deployment. We've both sought help within the military medical system on numerous times. My first time being during his first deployment when I myself was on the brink of suicide. The behavioral health's clinic had one answer, you don't need to be here. Oh and here, take this bottle of pills. 7 years later through the grace of God we ended up in marriage counseling the CAFAP and it was our marriage therapist that diagnosed me with ptsd and put me in therapy with a PTSD and Trauma specialist, who is a civilian working for the DOD on post. She has saved my life! By finally being properly diagnosed with PTSD from the two soldiers that I have been married to who both have untreated PTSD I have atleast been able to get help, but I am one of the few and rare cases of someone in the military spouse community that has actually had real success. With the proper care and tools to survive my ptsd I am finally almost whole again and am finally getting out of a bad and abusive marriage that could never survive because the Army broke my spouse and refuses to fix him. Having to wonder if you will be killed in your home while you sleep because your soldier is has gone off the deep end is something I have lived with as a reality. I have watched my soldier spin out of control and threaten to take his life on numerous occasions. He refuses to get help because he will have to fight the system and he will be forever labeled by the Army as broken, something that no soldier is willing to do. They'd rather keep on with their mental health issues than have the Army try to use their ptsd as a tool to kick them out of the Army and leave them jobless and benefit-less. All the while it affects their spouses and children causing secondary ptsd. This is the reality in our military. Shhh don't ask don't tell has a whole new meaning – PTSD, the military's dirty secret.

  5. Less zombies in the WWII vet population. Vietnam, Afgan, and Iraq, vets are in cognitive/emotional dissonance. This is because of brainwashing to numb out, be mission minded, obey orders and get frosty after the killing fields. And then Betrayal by their country. We were used and lied to about the necessity of these wars. These wars were immoral, and not for the survival and benefit of our communities. It is too much for a soldier/veteran of these wars to face this reality of having given so much of themselves, trusted so much, and possibly killed or saw others dead or killed for a lie. That is the main mental health issue that is the elephant in the room. Wake up.

  6. I'm am a prior service disabled veteran (PTSD & depression), and currently a Guard milspouse with a family of five daughters. I'm all about making lemonade from DoD, the military and the Veterans Administration's lemons, but to read of so many more families that are not able to get the help they NEED, when they need it, is disheartening and overwhelming.

    My family and I have lived through some amazingly bad times and I wish I could say that my experience might help other families to get the support they need. In truth, I couldn't get help for myself until I was found catatonic. The mental health system for service members is hard enough to navigate and unless you have help from a service organization after separation to to get rated from the Veteran's Administration, you may end up in waiting years for your case to be heard, denied, refiled, heard, denied, refiled, given partial disability, refiled to rate a high enough percentage to be able to get CHAMPVA for your family members. That journey in itself was almost the death of me. I do not wish it on anyone.

    I have written here at SPOUSEBuzz about how this has affected my family ( and I am always more than willing to talk to anyone who has to walk this road. I am NOT a professional anything. I can only offer what has worked and not worked for my own family. For a long time, I've felt that instead of struggling individually with the same problems won't help much, but by gathering together to survive that struggle, some kind of change might be had. I am most likely a very dismal cheering team when things get rough, but I'll still do it. I hope everyone else will try to be someone's cheering section when they need it.

    In the end I can only give one piece of personal advice… Don't EVER give up trying to find help. Even when you have to live from one minute to the next, after all, you made it a minute ago, you can make the next one. There is something out there and even if it's not as much or as great as or exactly what you and your family need, it is better than nothing to help carry you through until you DO find help in a different direction.

    Lesson number one that I was taught by my Dad (yes, retired military) – The ONLY way you can lose is if you don't even try. I've despised this lesson on so many days, but I now know am worth it. My family is worth it. My friends are worth it. AND YOU ARE WORTH IT! Don't ever let anyone make you feel any different. It matters to me that my greater military family is suffering. IT MATTERS TO ME.

    I NEVER talk politics, religion or a person's chocolate preference, but just this once I want to make a suggestion. I'll mark it so that those who would like to skip it, may. (I won't hold it against you)

    I have no sure or quick answers about getting anything changed within our government except to write to your representatives, federal and state to tell them your experience. Get your family, friends, and whoever else will also send their concerns about this situation because they have been affected. The House, Senate, President, Governor (both in the state you are residing and your state of home record), your representatives within your states government that represents you. Then lather, rinse, repeat until the burden of correspondence is overwhelming for THEM. From experience, you will find some of your representatives will have their staff take the time to respond to you, but more often than not, you will never even get an acknowledgement that they even received your concerns. The strongest message is one given in person (make an appointment), then handwritten certified mail, then email which often can be linked at their office. They actually rate these by number of importance, but ANY kind of correspondence is wonderful, and any other communication is frosting on the cake. You have no control over anyone but yourself and your reactions. They work for YOU. Keep a log and then ask everyone you know to help you, even if you have to print up stamped envelopes and hand them along with pen and paper to everyone you know. Send email links. Send the offices physical address. One person alone will not be able to change this, but a cry so loud from everyone affected might get at least some much needed relief. Our government needs to know just HOW severely affected our family and friends are AND that it affects A LOT more than just a service member and their families.

  7. what I heard from behavioral health on one post – we barely have enough people to help the uniform service members. Unless the family member is in extremis – we are going to tell them to go to the MFLC, the chaplain or call Tricare for off post . In these times of reduced budgets – thats our reality

  8. Which while on the one hand is understandable, on the other is still frustrating. My only personal experience involved my servicemember and he had a horrible time getting seen as well. And the wait time in between appts is ridiculous even when he did get seen finally. I felt so betrayed by the Army after a decade of repeat deployments and volunteering, that I doubt I will ever get my hooah back…I'd like to think I was an anomaly, but I know I am not.

  9. Tricia, I don't have words for your loss. My heart breaks for you and your family. There has to be a level of not only support but respect for the lives our families are enduring in these protracted wars. I can't imagine anything more horrific than a child's suicide. I pray that you are all getting the care you need now, assuredly not to get over, but to in some small way cope with the tragedy that has overtaken your life. You'll be in my prayers and I, for one, will not stop talking to anyone who will listen about this issue on any platform possible. This is NOT O.K.

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