Monday, October 8, 2012
Our military members have strong shoulders, carrying great burdens every day as they willingly serve. They face stress and extreme conditions, putting themselves at risk of numerous health problems. However, service members can be proactive to remain as healthy as possible and loved ones can be a part of the effort. Family and friends want to feel like they can do their part. They can help by taking action to safeguard a military members health.
People may often overlook a service member's mental and emotional health, yet this is extremely important. There are many simple things that can be done to help a person on active duty to deal with mental strain. Friends and family need to be a support system, showing how much they care even when separated by time and distance. Regular care packages with notes, mementos, and reminders from home, can help to ground a person. Phone calls, video chats, and e-mails help to close the gap and lift the spirits. When the time of service is over, those who are stateside need to realize that our military members may need help upon their return. Having a listening ear, being patient, and setting up counseling services are essential. Taking a mental health screening is a good place to start. Members can be screened for depression and post traumatic stress disorder amongst other things using services like Military Pathways.
Many of the physical problems are easier to identify because we can see the symptoms and are able to head them off at the pass. But some are also as subtle as the mental health problems. If they experience a persistent, chronic cough that seems like a bad cold or respiratory infection, mesothelioma (What is Mesothelioma?) could be the problem. Have your soldier consult a doctor and discuss all the possible dangerous and harmful chemicals they may have been exposed to. Make regular trips to see this doctor because the diseases and health problems caused by chemicals such as asbestos or Agent Orange, as well as the various pollutants that get released into the air from burn pits.
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
In these small hours
These little wonders,
These twists & turns of fate
Time falls away,
But these small hours,
These small hours still remain
9/11, and the firsts that followed it – the first Thanksgiving, first Veteran’s Day, first Christmas, New Year... – were just such small hours. And they still remain.
Saturday, March 3, 2012
The movie chronicles the experience of four Soldiers returning from service in Iraq, and trying to transition back into their old lives. It was striking to me, and very telling, how many scenes in the movie reflect stories that I’ve heard from combat veterans – issues with getting proper benefits and treatment for injuries and wounds; feeling overly medicated to deal with post-traumatic stress and medical issues; struggling to deal with a world that seems so trivial and unimportant now; and one scene where being cut off by a random car in traffic brings out a combat-like reaction that is totally disproportionate to the situation. That scene was almost verbatim what I’d heard from a Soldier nearly three years ago.
There are certain phrases that we hear throughout our lives, some on almost a daily basis, that we eventually take for granted and don’t give much energy to anymore; “home of the brave” being one of them. We’ve all heard that so many times that we likely don’t give it much energy anymore; at least not as much energy as it is probably due. But what struck me in a very powerful way at the end of Home of the Brave was that perhaps that phrase isn’t limited to those who have bravely served in combat. That may be the most obvious, and perhaps most significant display of bravery that we can point to. But it is not the only example that exists, nor is it the only one that we need.
There is another bravery that we need right now, and that is from us – civilians. We need to be brave enough to support those who serve for us. We need to repay their bravery with ours. Now, you may be thinking, “What bravery is required of us? What can we do that is so ‘brave’?” The answer is we need to be brave enough to love and support those who need us, despite how challenging that might appear at times. Just as a Soldier displays bravery in helping a fallen comrade out of a hot zone and back to safety, we have a responsibility to help our Veterans and Service Members back to safety.
That means holding a space for them wherein they can safely make their transition back to the world without combat. It means holding our judgment of behaviors that appear out of the norm. It means allowing them the time and space to re-acclimate. It means respecting their experience and holding them in the highest esteem even when they appear to be at their weakest. It means acknowledging that we cannot possibly understand what they are thinking or feeling, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t try. It means offering understanding as best we can given our lack of direct experience, and not pitying them if they are struggling. And it means loving them when they are not being very loveable.
There is a scene in the movie in which Samuel L. Jackson is standing calm and controlled as another Soldier waves a pistol in his face. He is calm, partly because he knows that he must remain calm to diffuse the situation, and partly because he understands what the Soldier is going through. Brave. When these Service Members come home, it is our turn to be that brave. To stand calm, but supportive, with respect, and dignity, and compassion, and the most understanding that we can possibly offer, and to love them back to a place of safety just as they would for any fallen comrade, whatever that place of safety looks like for them.
That is how we as civilians can help earn the title, Home of the Brave.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
By Allison Mewes
After more than eight years in Iraq, U.S. troops have finally come home; the Afghan war is winding down as well. We can all breathe a sigh of relief once the remainder of our US troops are home. We can finally close the book, move on and put these wars behind us, right? Wrong.
When our soldiers come home, they need our support more than ever.
During combat, soldiers are assigned battle buddies. They watch each other’s back, support one another and are trained to live or die for their comrade. When soldiers come home and integrate back into civilian life, their battle buddy isn’t always there to look out for them or notice changes in their behavior. Of course soldier’s friends and families look after them once they’re home, but as civilians, we don’t always know the warning signs to look for to ensure a healthy reintegration. Since we can’t possibly understand what soldiers in combat situations have been through, how do we successfully help them adjust to life back at home?
Soldiers not only need to adapt back to our civilized world, but they need to reintegrate with their spouses, children, friends and families after long stretches of time apart—Reserve and Guardsman also adjust back to their 8-5 day jobs. These changes don’t necessarily come easy after long, combat deployments. Soldiers may be safely at home, but what they saw, experienced and lived through stays in their hearts and minds forever.
You may want to help and wonder what you can do to assist returning soldiers? There are many things you can do to support a soldier upon their return.
1. Look for PTSD symptoms – It has been reported by PsychOrg.com that upwards of 18% of returning soldiers they tested met the criteria for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). One of the most important things you can do is keep an eye out for PTSD symptoms which typically surface three months to years after a traumatic experience. The most common symptoms are;
§ Flashbacks and upsetting dreams – relieving the experience
§ Hyperarousal – always keyed up and on alert for something bad to happen and increased irritability, anger or trouble sleeping.
§ Avoidance of friends and family and emotional numbness – showing a lack of interest in things enjoyed before the war, hopelessness and memory problems.
If you know someone suffering from PTSD, there are many available resources that can help. Learn more about PTSD symptoms and what to watch for so you can be prepared to take action if you see a soldier struggling with symptoms.
2. Employ a soldier – NBC Nightly News recently reported that upwards of 20% of veterans are unemployed. Think about how you or your business could employ a veteran. A few programs currently running are; Hire a Hero allows you to post a resume and view employers online, The Veterans Job Bank is for job seekers and employers alike, and grass roots efforts such as a farm in California called Archie’s Acres. The farm is owned by a veteran Marine and they hire returning vets while encouraging them to nurture rather than destroy by working on a farm.
3. Don’t encourage bad behaviors – If your loved one came home drinking much more than they did when they left, don’t encourage this behavior by pouring them another drink and cheering them on. Drugs and alcohol are an escape mechanism soldiers may use to help “forget” the war and could be another sign of PTSD. If you notice your friend or family member is drinking or using drugs more heavily, tell them you notice and encourage them to see a doctor or talk to someone. Left untreated, the behavior and consequences will worsen.
If you feel like your loved one is acting differently, his/her behaviors seem to be spiraling out of control and you’re not sure what to do, there are resources available. Ask a chaplain, veteran’s center, MFLC (Military Family Life Consultant) or counselor for help. If they don’t have a PTSD program, they can direct you to the appropriate resources.
They say it takes a village to raise child. Well, it also takes a community to look out for the soldiers who have sacrificed so much for our freedoms. It’s the least we can do in return for all they’ve done for us.
Allison Mewes is a proud Army Wife, and author of Intro to Army Life, a guidebook for spouses, significant others, and families entering the military lifestyle for the first time. To learn more about her work, please check out: www.facebook.com/IntroToArmyLife