Veterans Day: Military Spouses Share Their Pain

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Jack Tilley, retired sergeant major and former senior enlisted member of the Army, said there are numerous places for families to turn.

"There's a family support group on every military installation," he said. "And a lot of time, wives don't get involved with that, so that's the first place I think they go."

The 75 percent of military families who live off-post in their communities have fewer options but, Tilley said, "I'd probably say if you go to church, talk to your chaplain, talk to people like that, that can help and assist you."

As for PTSD-related problems, he said, "I think I'd go to the medical facility, the doctor, the hospital and talk to them, and I'd also inform my chain of command and see exactly what they could do to help them.

"A lot of people get frustrated because they don't know, they don't know exactly who to talk to, but I'd start with the chain of command, and I'd certainly get involved with those family support groups on any installation."

However, it isn't the lack of programs that prevents some wives from finding help. It can also be the stigma against seeking mental health care.

Melissa Seligman's husband deployed three times, twice leaving her behind with newborns.

"During the second deployment, I did voice those fears that I wasn't going to make it," the South Carolinian said. "I thought I'd be fine ... It was devastating to realize that I was not fine. I knew exactly what to expect. I said, 'This time I'm not going to fall as deeply,' and I fell twice as deep."

But on the surface, Seligman had to pretend everything was fine because of the stigma against appearing weak.

"You don't want to disappoint anyone ... you are going to be the best army wife ever. It becomes this persona ... 'Everything's fine.' You don't want the last thing he hears is for you to be incredibly honest about how down you are.

"There is a fear that if you put out your deepest, darkest [secrets], that you're going to be chided in some way, shape or form," she said.

This is, in part, why she co-founded the blog, "Her War. Her Voice," where military spouses could talk about issues openly and candidly.

"I wanted to give them a place to come that was safe and free of judgment," she said. "What helps is that you be honest and have other people respond."

Brittany Williams, 30, another military spouse, says the stigma for military spouses' seeking help was so great that during her husband's first deployment, rather than seek counseling on post, she went to an off-post provider. The North Carolinian said her husband's company was so small, and such a close-knit group, that rumors could easily get around.

"The wife is supposed to be the strong one, they're supposed to keep things together, keep the house together, the kids together. If you show even a crack of weakness, people will hold that against you."

Also, there was great fear that if a spouse sought help from a program offered by or attached to the military, it would not be kept confidential, and it was possible it would be shared with their military spouse or somehow reflect badly on him.

"The way that your spouse acts is a reflection of the soldier. The perception is if they can't keep things in control at home, how will they do it at work? If they can't keep their personal lives separate from their work lives, then [the fear is] it definitely reflects poorly on them," she said

Sgt. Maj. Tilley doesn't buy the notion of a stigma, pointing to his rise in the ranks despite his son's illness. "I think that's a myth," he said. "My son had pneumococcal meningitis, left him totally blind, totally deaf, 20 to 30 convulsions a day. Had encephalitis, just a series of things, and I always thought that that would stop me from being in the military. He's now OK, he's doing really good right now.

"But I always thought that would stop me from being promoted in the military. Well I got to be the sergeant major of the Army. So coming forward and telling people what your issues are is something that people want to know and they want to help you, so don't be afraid and don't think it's going to affect you, because it's not."

Williams has personally overcome this perceived stigma, and says that spouses should seek help from a program such as Military OneSource, a free, 24-hour service provided by the Defense Department to service members and their families to help with everything from money management to relationships, stress, and grief.

"There should be no shame in asking for help. I have had my fair share of counseling sessions, anti-depressants and panic attacks before my husband has deployed or left from [rest and relaxation]. Whatever I can do, I am here, and no anonymity needed on my end. I'm OK putting my face to this if it helps someone else," Williams said.

But for Kat Honaker, the wife of a non-active Army reservist who lives far from a military post, the same resources aren't available to her, she says, and that Military OneSource can't help her.

"Whenever someone says Military OneSource, I say, 'Military what source?' It's not a bad program, it's not that it doesn't help anybody. It doesn't help with PTSD or TBI, because it doesn't help with medical conditions." In addition, she said, it would point her to resources that were just too far away geographically.

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