How do we get our governments to see their responsibility for family counselling in rehabilitating vets?
There is no clearcut approach. Everyone is different. Some single troopers say that when they get home, they want everything to be the same as it was when they left — that’s what they’ve been remembering and holding onto in their minds’ eyes. Mmmm… life doesn’t stand still, so maybe that expectation is too difficult to meet. Troopers’ disappointment in the status quo can begin the sense of estrangement some soldiers and families develop toward one another.
What about married couples? What is it like for them when their spouses’ deployments are over? For them, say many, the reunion is like a second honeymoon, and one military wife noted how much she appreciated her husband’s parents, his siblings and her own parents for not showing up to greet him off the plane. As a couple, it gave them needed time to rediscover each other and to adjust before they included everyone else in a welcome-home celebration.
I applaud this couple’s parents and in-laws. I think they are remarkable because I can’t picture most parents, mothers especially, giving up their place in the reception line to welcome sons and daughters back home from war.
Some young people fall in love with being in love without understanding or being prepared for the responsibilities of their relationship. The ones left home only know the devastating loneliness and fear they experience. With the return of their spouse, they are reacting to their expectation of normalcy and being cared for again, not with the understanding of what happened to their spouses “in country” or how that experience might have changed them. In fact, what comes with this juvenile “me-first” selfishness is an attitude of punishment against the soldier for abandoning the partner while on deployment.
In 1994, I was saddened to learn that many Canadian peacekeepers returning from missions in Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Cambodia and Rwanda were handed divorce papers the minute they stepped off the plane in CFB Trenton. The apathy of their loves ones crushed these returning soldiers’ souls. No one seemed to care that they witnessed horrendous brutality and mass slaughter and counted themselves lucky to return home alive. Their marriages and families were sacrificed in military silence and denial.
Wiley Wright, a Vietnam vet, suggests in comments he made to an article about the increase of U.S. military suicides in today’s deployments: “All of these soldiers are volunteers. Every one of them. If we are going to keep participating in foreign conflicts with a volunteer force on a fast rotation basis, we need to discourage soldiers from marrying, especially during their first enlistment. And, we need a corps of truly hard men who are willing to endure extended conflict in tough situations. Pay them well, and turn them loose without restrictive rules of engagement, beltway oversight and wimpy commanders.
From the point of view of the wife of an American Afghanistan vet, Clara Calderon shares what happened to her husband: “My husband was active duty until last year and stationed at Ft. Campbell. The amount of stress that these soldiers endure is unbelievable. I believe that it effects each and every soldier at all levels and all ranks – whether they are seasoned NCOs or privates still wet behind the ears. EVERY LAST man and woman who chooses to bravely defend our country is overstressed, overworked, under appreciated, underpaid, and not thanked enough. It’s pathetic how underappreciated they are.”
Calderon goes on to explain what has happened to them as a couple. “I believe families definitely need to be supportive and not add stress to their military spouses. However, I witnessed my husband’s agony and am grateful he is no longer on active duty. Even if you have a well-balanced home life, WAR IS NOT MEANT FOR FAMILIES. It was the source of our near divorce. Even after his deployment, he was working like a horse. He got up at 3:00 a.m. and would not return until 8:00 p.m. on a regular basis. If we arrived [home] at 6 p.m., we considered it early. [His outfit] was training for the next deployment in Afghanistan as soon as it returned. He was a Sgt. 1st class promotable with 16 years active duty and he LEFT without a job lined up! This is unheard of. Why????? He was tired, exhausted, depleted, and just frustrated on so many levels. The Army tried everything to get him to stay. The pension simply wasn’t enough. He was done. It was hard. Now, he is much better. We are on the mend. He feels better that he made this decision.”
Calderon’s husband becomes a statistic, but at least he doesn’t end up under the column for military suicide. In his frustration, he took a positive step to change the things dragging him down, thereby saving his marriage as well. From Calderon’s comments, their genuine and mature love for each other stands out. Other couples don’t have sound marriages to help them survive.
In conclusion, 1) If the military expects to create heroes and heroines, then the upper ranks have to treat their officers and non-coms with the respect and understanding they deserve to receive for doing outstanding jobs under the worst of conditions; 2) The military and home government that our troops serve have a responsibility to provide the best counselling and training services possible to help our fighting forces and their families bind together in support of each other under the most trying circumstances.
A commitment of political leaders to these two things would go a long way to reduce traumatic stress and the military’s climbing suicide rate in Canada and the United States. It’s something substantial taxpayers would be willing to support, especially if the military broke their vow of silence and opened witness to “in service” programs that heal the lives of our vets and families.
About Homecoming VetsAbout this site: People forget that family and partners become victims of the war. When our vets have fought, they return home needing special care and consideration. Who helps them? This blog is dedicated to our homecoming vets and their families who need our understanding and support in making sure they receive the assistance they need to reintegrate into civilian life.
Thank you Bonnie for bringing to the forefront this great need.
From my prayerful heart to yours,