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Wounded Times

Where Veterans Get Their News

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Combat survivors spouse surviving guilt

Combat survivors spouse surviving guilt
by Kathie Costos
Wounded Times Blog
January 19, 2013

The subject of "survivor guilt" has made the news lately and rightfully so because it is a huge part of Combat PTSD. What does not get talked about is when the spouse ends up with it because the veteran has committed suicide or they had to end their marriage. Most of the time they had no knowledge of what PTSD was, what it was doing to their veteran and family other than it was being destroyed by the veteran. The more I learned, the easier it was to stay with mine.

Like many my husband enlisted in the Army, left for Fort Jackson and ended up with the 101st in Vietnam. He left as a civilian even though he came from a military family. His Dad served in the Army in WWII along with three uncles. The uncle he's named after was a Marine, killed in Saipan My husband did not come home as a civilian. He came home as a combat veteran with a year of memories from Phu Bai. By the time we met, he had been home for 10 years. He was also getting divorced from his first wife.

For me, my uncles served in WWII and my Dad was a 100% disabled Korean War veteran, so when he met Jack, he spotted what came home with him. My Dad called it "shell shock" so I did my research and understood what it was. No amount of research told me that mild PTSD would get worse untreated. He didn't want to go to the VA no matter how much my Dad told him he needed to. He wouldn't listen to me. He was listening to his Dad. His Dad said the "VA is for guys that can't work" not for him. Back then, he could work. He was doing ok with the nightmares and flashbacks, the twitches and mood swings. Then the secondary stressor hit pushing his mild PTSD into full blown.

Back then, families like mine suffered in silence. It was something no one talked about. It was something even less understood. What wives like me were told was just get a divorce. Veterans like my husband were thought of as just being "jerks" "druggies" and "alcoholics" destroying their families. My Mom knew that part well since my Dad was also a violent alcoholic until I was 13.

You need to remember that no one knew what was going on from state to state because no one had computers to read any news reports. Isolation was easy because Vietnam was not like WWII when everyone knew at least one veteran. Few knew a Vietnam veteran and what they ended up reading in the newspapers was usually bad. After all, reporters had no clue what life was like for them so when they were arrested, committed suicide or got divorced, they got blamed and no one blamed Vietnam. Extended families blamed them for marriages falling apart and many wives had no support to understand what was going on, so they blamed them too.

Even today with all the reports and research done on combat and PTSD, too many are left with little understanding. They still don't have what they need to get through all of this. I get emails and phone calls from spouses and parents. They tell me they just didn't know about any of this and then they feel guilty they didn't do things differently. They had no choice. No one gave them the information to have options and tools to cope. They made things worse because they didn't know any better. The mistakes I made with my own husband are too many to count but the more I knew, the more I understood and the more I was able to help him and in turn, myself. Everyday I do this work because I remember what it was like when I had no one to talk to, no place to get support to do it and above all, felt totally alone. For every veteran I help, I'm helping my husband when no one else would. When I help a family I am helping my own when no one else would.

This report from Mother Jones goes a long way toward bringing understanding for the forgotten warriors in all of this. The families on the front lines of the home front.

Is PTSD Contagious?
It's rampant among returning vets—and now their spouses and kids are starting to show the same symptoms.
Mother Jones
By Mac McClelland
January/February 2013 Issue

BRANNAN VINES HAS NEVER BEEN to war. But she's got a warrior's skills: hyperawareness, hypervigilance, adrenaline-sharp quick-scanning for danger, for triggers. Super stimuli-sensitive. Skills on the battlefield, crazy-person behavior in a drug store, where she was recently standing behind a sweet old lady counting out change when she suddenly became so furious her ears literally started ringing. Being too cognizant of every sound—every coin dropping an echo—she explodes inwardly, fury flash-incinerating any normal tolerance for a fellow patron with a couple of dollars in quarters and dimes. Her nose starts running she's so pissed, and there she is standing in a CVS, snotty and deaf with rage, like some kind of maniac, because a tiny elderly woman needs an extra minute to pay for her dish soap or whatever.

Brannan Vines has never been to war, but her husband, Caleb, was sent to Iraq twice, where he served in the infantry as a designated marksman. He's one of 103,200, or 228,875, or 336,000 Americans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan and came back with PTSD, depending on whom you ask, and one of 115,000 to 456,000 with traumatic brain injury. It's hard to say, with the lack of definitive tests for the former, undertesting for the latter, underreporting, under or over-misdiagnosing of both. And as slippery as all that is, even less understood is the collateral damage, to families, to schools, to society—emotional and fiscal costs borne long after the war is over.

Like Brannan's symptoms. Hypervigilance sounds innocuous, but it is in fact exhaustingly distressing, a conditioned response to life-threatening situations. Imagine there's a murderer in your house. And it is dark outside, and the electricity is out. Imagine your nervous system spiking, readying you as you feel your way along the walls, the sensitivity of your hearing, the tautness in your muscles, the alertness shooting around inside your skull. And then imagine feeling like that all the time.

I don't usually leave comments on websites unless they write something that hits me hard. This is one of those times.
You did a great job on this but a couple of things need to be pointed out. Less than half of the veterans needing help for PTSD seek it and the reported numbers leave out thousands of veterans along with their families. I am glad you mentioned Vietnam Veterans because Point Man International Ministries focused on them back in 1984 when they established Home Fronts to help families along with the Out Post for the veterans. I wrote my book in 2002 because I saw what was coming for the veterans and their families because reporters like you were nowhere to be found. No one cared. It is happening to this generation of families just as it happened to ours. I am glad you care enough to to do something for us, the forgotten families of combat veterans.

The reason why I left this comment is this part on page two.
BY THIS POINT, YOU MIGHT BE wondering, and possibly feeling guilty about wondering, why Brannan doesn't just get divorced. And she would tell you openly that she's thought about it. "Everyone has thought about it," she says. And a lot of people do it. In the wake of Vietnam, 38 percent of marriages failed within the first six months of a veteran's return stateside; the divorce rate was twice as high for vets with PTSD as for those without. Vietnam vets with severe PTSD are 69 percent more likely to have their marriages fail than other vets. Army records also show that 65 percent of active-duty suicides, which now outpace combat deaths, are precipitated by broken relationships. And veterans, well, one of them dies by suicide every 80 minutes. But even ignoring that though vets make up 7 percent of the United States, they account for 20 percent of its suicides—or that children and teenagers of a parent who's committed suicide are three times more likely to kill themselves, too—or a whole bunch of equally grim statistics, Brannan's got her reasons for sticking it out with Caleb.


None of this is impossible. If you want to prevent suicides, then take care of the families on the front lines of all of this. If you want to prevent them from becoming homeless, then take care of the families. Give them the knowledge they need to know so they can help their families heal from the combat they face at home. Our veterans deserve so much more than they have received and their families need to be included in on all of it because while they did not go, it came home to them.

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