US: Military families – the hidden casualties of war

Jessica Pruitt’s father served in the Vietnam War, and her brother-in-law is currently stationed in Fallujah. Justice (journal of Socialist Alternative) spoke with Jessica about how she and her friends and family are dealing with the stress of having loved ones in Iraq.

Justice: How well does the U.S. military help military families in times of war?

Jessica: Military families receive all health coverage through the military hospitals located on base for free, a definite plus in today’s struggle to afford health insurance. However, the major element families deal with during a war is the emotional stress that takes the place of the deployed family member. Counseling services on base are provided with military interests involved, meaning wives are told not to focus on the absence of their husbands but instead to direct their attention to their heroic service during war time. Any counseling or treatment sought outside the military comes straight from the families’ pockets.

During a time of war, families communicate with their deployed family member on the military’s time. Families may have no more than a twenty-minute conversation with a deployed family member after anxiously hovering by the phone for weeks at a time. But, not only is every ring possibly the familiar voice of their husband, daughter, or son, it is also the ever-present possibility of severe injury or loss.

Justice: How about the situation of soldiers returning home, what help is there for wives, girlfriends, and partners? What experiences have you heard of?

Jessica: Many soldiers who have experienced combat have some level of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The military is very aware of the results of combat experience on soldiers’ emotions and behavior, but does nothing to educate families or soldiers on ways to deal with PTSD. Wives and girlfriends are told the best response to give returning soldiers is to greet them as “heroes,” leaving many wives and girlfriends unprepared for the changes in their partners. Explosive anger, erratic sleeping habits, violent outbursts, continual nightmares, and emotional withdrawal are all symptoms of PTSD that wives, girlfriends, partners, and families must deal with alone with no sympathy from the military. The wife of a soldier who returned to Fort Lewis this fall from Iraq recently confided that her husband has violent verbal outbursts towards her, a trend that has only surfaced since his return from the battle lines.

Justice: What do you think is the best way to support military families who are dealing with the threat of a family member being shipped out to Iraq?

Jessica: Obviously, the military would rather ignore the psychological complications involved with wartime experience, underfund support systems for those returning from war, and cloak the suffering families’ pain under the guise of patriotic appeals. Family members can cope with these feelings by involving themselves in organizations dedicated to bringing the troops home and ending the war. Moreover, the government needs to provide funding to family members so they can go to support groups that exist outside of the military’s reach to get counseling that can help them deal with the real stresses of having a loved one overseas.

From Justice, journal of Socialist Alternative, cwi in the US

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April 2005