Published on truthout, by Stacy Bannerman, Oct. 24, 2009.
As the effects of eight years of war accumulate in Army families, a growing number of military spouses suffering stress, depression and thoughts of suicide can’t get the care they need. There is “a severe shortage of mental-health-care facilities for families, both on post and off, especially as post-behavioral health centers are already filled to capacity with soldiers,” according to Army psychiatrist Col. Kris Peterson. (Army News Service, October 13, 2009: Kids Affected With Repeat Deployments) …
… A growing number of today’s military spouses are married to active-duty veterans, and it’s likely that the psychological distress experienced by wives of combat veterans is compounded by bearing the burden of war at home during multiple deployments, but there are painfully few resources focused on serving this population.
Soldiers receive training and courses to prepare them for multiple deployments, but spouses do not. Even when clinical care is available, 66 percent of the military spouses surveyed “worried that looking for assistance for their own issues would harm their loved ones’ chances of promotion.” (American Psychiatric Association, 2008)
The stigma that prevents troops from seeking mental health help also affects military spouses, some of whom believe that a wife who asks for help is weak, and “not cut out to be an Army wife.” Hypervigilant of the fact that it’s their soldier, not themselves, repeatedly putting their boots on the ground and their lives on the line, spouses learn to “suck it up,” and suffer in silence.
In the past year, however, more military wives have begun speaking out, including Sheila Casey, wife of the Army’s top soldier, Gen. George Casey, Army chief of staff. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in June, Mrs. Casey remarked, “Army families are the most brittle part of the force … [They] are sacrificing too much, and we can no longer ask them to just make the best of it.” (full text).
(Stacy Bannerman is the author of When the War Came Home: The Inside Story of Reservists and the Families They Leave Behind. She is the force behind the Military Family Leave Act of 2009, and has testified before Congress twice about the effects of war on military families. Her husband recently returned from his second deployment to Iraq. Stacy can be contacted at her website).