|Jan. 27, 2017|
When a soldier deploys, the burden of that deployment is carried by the family left behind. This can lead to post-deployment stress and secondary PTSD when those troops return.
“We know there is an equivalent to PTSD in children and spouses and this is a situation that carries through every fiber of that family,” Carmen Fies, head of the Center for Military Families at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
The center held a panel Saturday discussing the impact of post-deployment stress on families after more than 15 years of war.
“Post-deployment stress really extends beyond the service member to the spouse and the children left behind,” one of the panelists, Kat Cole of Endeavors™ and the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic, said.
Endeavors™ offers free mental health care to veterans and their dependents. The clinic, operated in partnership with the San Antonio nonprofit Endeavors™, also treats spouses and children exposed to secondhand trauma and works to repair marriages and parent-child relationships.
Veterans almost seem apologetic when they call for help, Cole said. She said she’ll hear them say, “‘I totally understand if there are other veterans who need the help more than me.’”
Spouses and caregivers feel the same way, Cole said. They often feel their spouse is the one who needs help, while they’re on the back burner.
Family members, however, also suffer effects from deployment. Research shows a 24 percent higher rate of depression for wives whose spouse deployed for 11 months or longer. Another study found that almost 37 percent of the wives whose husbands were deployed were diagnosed with at least one mental health disorder.
For children, having a parent who has been for deployed for a total for 19 months is associated with decreased tests scores in school. One study found 33 percent of children between 5 and 12 with deployed parents had a high likelihood of developing social and psychological problems. In a 2011 report to Congress, the Department of Defense found a 19 percent increase in behavioral disorders among military children with a deployed parent.
The stresses are compounded when a service member goes to war and comes back wounded.
Dan Blasini, a panelist at the event and vice president of military affairs at Warm Springs Rehabilitation Hospital of San Antonio, works with veterans who have been wounded in combat.
The service member must learn to cope with their disability, even for common tasks. Family members often want to help with everything right away, but Blasini said he encourages them to step back at first, so the service member can learn their limits.
“The family has to know when to watch, when to help, when they need to intervene for safety reasons,” Blasini said. “That’s the balancing act.”
Fies said there needs to be more community awareness of the challenges facing military families so they can find help.
“The community as a whole needs to be aware of how to interact with military family members in productive ways, to know how to buffer these things,” Fies said.
Cole, a veteran, went through 11 deployments as a family. She said military families can easily get isolated in their communities. She said she sees in San Antonio efforts to see the issue as one affecting the whole family.
“More and more family members are coming out of the woodwork,” Cole said. “They’re thinking, ‘If I can take better care of myself, I can take better care of my family.’”