Yesterday I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting around 50 women who share the distinction of being married to servicemen who have been, currently are, or will be deployed into one of the many hot spots around the world. I met them at the Warrior Wives Conference. which was hosted by Veterans 360 (a great non-profit organization that helps servicepeople and veterans who are dealing with the challenges that every military family faces).
The conference brought together people who were concerned with the changes that their warrior husbands exhibited after their return from combat. It was a tremendous venue, with knowledgeable guest speakers, booths manned by over a half-dozen public and non-profic support organizations, a panel discussion, and refreshments. The morning could not have been better spent.
Having the opportunity to speak with such dedicated women was tremendous. There is a lot of press out there that addresses the effects of PTSD and combat stress on those who suffer from it, but there is not nearly as much about its effect on families. Every combat veteran struggles to reconcile their experiences in the fight with the realities of home, but those with spouses and children often have the added stress of trying to fit the mold of who they used to be in order to make things at home “normal” again. Too often they find it impossible to go back to who they were before they went to war, and as a result they begin to resent who they have become. It often becomes a vicious downward cycle that ends in alienation, acrimony, separation, and divorce.
Wives shared their frustrations with how their husbands were treated by their senior leaders and the mental health care system. Several voiced disgust about seniors who refused to let their spouse seek care without retribution, and others shared how they were disrespectfully treated when they tried to become active in their spouse’s treatment; two of the participating wives were told that they were the problem. I find it amazing that those who are battling to keep their families together must fight the very institution that officially promises to help them overcome the devastating challenges of combat stress and family reintegration.
It was a cathartic day. Spouses who felt isolated and believed that they were alone in their pain found others who were rowing in the same boat. A lot of tears were shed and new friendships were made. Every person who attended the conference left with a new group of friends and a greater set of resources that would help them with daily struggle to overcome the effects of combat stress, and I believe that each departed a little more hopeful for the future of their family.
Our wars are coming to an end. Iraq is behind us and Afghanistan soon will be. The effects of those wars on the families of those who fought them won’t end so readily, however. In the last paragraph of his second inaugural address, the great president Abraham Lincoln made a promise to veterans and their families at the height of the Civil War:
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Noble words then and as true today as they were the day he spoke them. The nation owes a debt to all who suffer because of the wars it fights, and not to pay that debt is a breach of faith and dereliction of duty beyond measure. The inaugural Warrior Wives Conference initiated a grassroots dialog about how things are really going in the homes touched by combat stress. I hope that the conversation grows.