I can tell you that finding your local Vet Center is often the way to go. The counselors there are veterans themselves and like my husband's, "been there and done that" kind of guys. There is a common bond automatically set up when you walk in, because you both can look at each other and just know. I really like this factor because although not your "battle buddy", it can come close. You also know its not some doctor who doesn't really care or understand, and only knows about this subject from glancing at it in their psychiatric diagnosis manuals. I fuss about the system as ours sometimes has failed me as a family member, but that's not the case from every state nor is it the case for every veteran. The Vet Centers can also see soldiers who are not yet qualified to go to the VA yet. This helps because if you are not yet a technical veteran by VA requirements, it's a good resource for those who need immediate help. For soldiers who are still in, this is a viable option for you.
The Vet Center also has resources for family members such as marriage counseling which is free. They can also get you into the VA system and get you started in the right direction for disability paperwork. Most VA systems have OIF/OEF representatives which are also quite handy to have in your arsenal. Call and harass the hell out of them. It's their job and what they are there for. Check out your local Disabled American Veterans chapters as well. My husband and I are members in our local one. Each chapter has service officers who help veterans with their paperwork and fight for your disability. Most of them usually have 10-25 years experience dealing with the VA and all their bullshit. They can advise, explain and fight it when denied. Also your local VFW is supposed to have such officers within their groups as well, although ours does not currently have anyone.
On a more personal note to all the Veterans with PTSD/TBI, I want to give you some insight especially for our struggling ones who are just now seeking help and having family issues as in three emails I received from this site. The best thing I can say is: War is hell on the home front too, even long after you come home. The war may never leave you, but remember your battle has simply moved strategically to another place, your Home. You may not realize how much, as a spouse, we endured on our end while you were deployed, or even in the service. Wartime makes it so much harder because we not only have to constantly worry about our spouse overseas and the horrors that go through our mind, but our families that were left behind. It's a heavy load to bear sometimes and one of the hardest jobs I have ever had to do in my lifetime. Even if you were never deployed to a war zone, just being in the military poses stress on all family members because there is always the "what ifs?". Once you come home, and the battle wages on here....we never know whether to stand in and fight with you or simply retreat and save ourselves! In some cases, there is no other option but to leave you. We may not want to, but sometimes for mental and safety purposes, it's what is best especially if there are children involved.
If you are struggling with issues such as PTSD/TBI, often times you will shove us aside, take out all your anger, resentment, and your emotions on your family. The Spouse is often the gutter for your flood of problems and we too can get overloaded. If you are struggling with PTSD, TBI, reintegration or readjustment issues, talk to us. We don't need to know what you saw over there, it's not important. We don't need a reasoning behind your problems, but do need to know you are having some issues. We can't help you if we don't know. If you come home different, we are going to be shocked and confused. If you suddenly show problems and push us away, we are hurt and not sure what we did wrong. We aren't the enemy. I can assure you that you aren't the only one who isn't educated as many of our spouses do not have one clue to not only recognize PTSD, but understand and cope with it.
- The first step is seeking help and that is often the hardest step to complete. Sitting down with your family/spouse and saying "I am having problems and I need your help". That statement will once again include us in your lives, lets us know that you still need us and puts us as a whole fighting one monster. Explain to your family and spouse what is going on with you. What sets you off? What type of things bother you? Is it being in crowded places, do loud noises startle you, what can we do to help you battle these things? Make a list of these problems not just for yourselves but also your primary care physician and your therapist and psych doctors.
Sometimes a family member will notice more things about you that have changed than you will. Those little things can become serious red flags of problems and you aren't aware of it. Those red flags can also mean a difference in percentages of disability ratings that you get. If you aren't aware of it, you are missing out on your deserved disability. Most family members and spouses can tell if you have memory problems, suffer from sleep walking, and much more all the way down to a change in the hairs on your rear! We live with you, we notice everything. Once discharged, some questions may never have been asked by the military....you were sent home and pushed on through the system. Many afraid of the stigma and losing their military careers, simply gave answers to get through the system without being flagged. In our case, my husband managed to give answers they wanted to hear and in the case of TBI, I was the one who noticed the problems which led to the diagnosis. Just because you have the VA or the Vet Center, does not necessarily mean those are the only options. Call around to different doctors who take your insurance. There are many soldiers I know who have opted to pay the small percentage of the bill just to get help in a different way other than using the medical facilities on post or VA help. In two spouses I know, going to a therapist who is retired military was the best step for them and their families.
- Talking to your spouse or family: will make an eternal difference I promise. We as spouses lost our freedom just as you feel. We have lost our husband, best friend, our rock, sometimes a parent if there are children at home, and most importantly left with a lot of unanswered questions. You came home and locked us up right along side with you in hell and there are days where we feel no way out. Educate yourself, get help and then remember to educate your spouse. Ask for marriage counseling, find a therapist, seek help for your spouse even if it's the smallest of avenues. We can't help you or understand if we don't know what the problem is or how to tackle it. We were once on the same team and now enemies...find a common ground to build a peace treaty on. Now some of you have emailed me, so why can you not tell the same things you told me to them?
- Work Together with your family: I know it's hard, and easier said than done but remember that we love you. When there is a family crisis, do we not stand together? If our home burns down, do we not stand together hand in hand and say let's build again? Health problems: we married you for sickness and in health. That includes PTSD and TBI. When something stands in your way, you have to band together and fight as a team. If your children are sick, or a family member...do you not come together and sit by their bedside? There is no difference with your problems.
- Listen: We know often that the issues you are facing consume you as a whole, but listen to us as well. Don't take offense and automatically get upset. We listened to you, now listen to us. You have to remember that often times, spouses do not have anyone to talk to whereas you might have a counselor or doctor. We don't have that option or in our case, that luxury. If you get angry when we talk about our problems, take a deep breath and count to ten. Walk away and pick up the conversation at a later time. We need you to understand how we feel, just like you need us to know what you are going through and understand. Sometimes a breakdown of communication is often the most reported problems when dealing with marriage and PTSD. How can you fight this enemy if you don't have a knowledge or a game plan put into place?
- Seeking help and working together: is the best advice I can give you. When you are at the VA, ask about any type of family programs or resources they might have. Every VA is different and some have more to offer than others. Remember that you aren't the only one who is suffering. Try to keep in mind that your family is always there, you just have to include them in your life; not shut them out. Checking out sites together and reading them together is a great thing too. Sites like Family Of A Vet.com has resources, information and education for vets and families. I really like this site because it's easy to read and none of that scientific jargon no one understands. Knowledge is empowering especially in these problems. Remember that asking for help does not make you weak. Letting your family know that you need their help does not make you less of a person. Find strength in each other and your family's love......
I hope this answers some. I am just speaking from my experience and often that helps more than any book I was told to buy from therapists and doctors. I came across this site of resources as well that may be of some use to you. Interesting links. Some of this is looking back over the last three years and asking myself what would have happened if my spouse had come to me and talked about it? I don't have all the answers and never will. I don't want to let anyone down by not providing answers to their questions, but felt you needed an honest answer. Thank you all for the emails and support. I will address the spouses later in another blog.
Fumbling in the Dark Myself,
Uncle Sam's Mistress