Veterans Day: Military Spouses Share Their Pain

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Because suicide or suicide attempts among spouses are not tracked by the military, the extent to which military spouses and families suffer is often anecdotal. Kristy Kaufmann is a 10-year Army wife and military family advocate who has personally known three wives who took their own lives.

"A battalion commander's wife. A drill sergeant's wife. A sergeant's wife. It doesn't matter what the rank is," the Virginian said at a briefing for the Congressional Military Family Caucus in February 2010. "They all had the same things in common, and they were good Army wives. They were strong and they never complained. But somewhere they broke.

"Everybody hits a wall sometime," said Kaufmann, who has been fighting to get funding for overstretched military family readiness groups, an argument she has been making publicly since 2009.

The groups are run by wives and supported by fundraising, and often with money from members of the military unit the groups are meant to support.

Another Army wife, asking for anonymity, knows of another three military wives who threatened or attempted suicide. She said that infidelity is a major reason for soldier and spouse suicides.

"It's an epidemic within the military, every rank, every level, it's a huge problem," she said.

But she said military policy prevents spouses or service members from discussing infidelity because cheating is against Army regulations. Punishment is not enforced enough to be a deterrent, however.

She said she expects domestic abuse, child abuse, divorce and suicide rates to increase when troops return home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

"A lot of us in the advocacy community are terrified of the next phase because in some ways it's easy to maintain a relationship from afar," she said. "So you've had couples who've been apart for the most of their marriage and they're about to be together."

Her experience in seeking help has not been positive. She said she called a military treatment facility, where, she said, the person who picked up the phone was obviously not trained as a health care provider, and that she started asking her "prove it questions" before transferring her to an advice nurse, where she was placed on hold for 45 minutes, only to tell the nurse her story all over again, before being transferred to a primary care provider.

"What if I was really bad off and didn't have the emotional stamina to stay on the phone for 40 minutes?" she said.

Two years ago, she said, a friend had tried to kill herself. She and another friend spent five hours determining where to take her. She said every place they called kept trying to direct her somewhere else. They finally ended up taking her to the ER, but through a friend of a friend, found her a private area she could wait so their military community wouldn't find out.

"The scary thing for us in the advocacy world is that it's happening the same time as the budget's getting cut. We never had enough programs, and now it'll be first on the chopping block," she said.

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