Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Oops I'm a day late posting this. I wrote it at the beginning of September as I began to collect my thoughts for a meeting at the Pentagon and wanted to post it here on the last day of the month since September is Suicide Awareness Month. My priorities didn't allow for extra time online yesterday as I had class and needed to finish and submit my paper for grad school. And then of course do all the "Mom" things going on after picking up A from school. So here it is, my blog for Suicide Awareness Month: Suicide rates are going up despite the increased efforts of our military to implement new programs and resources, and further expand existing resources. Suicide isn’t something that will ever be totally eliminated, but we are going in the wrong direction with the statistics and numbers of suicides. I know personally, though, that they are far from just statistics and numbers. They are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives. They are friends. They are warriors. They are the bravest of the brave who actually had the courage to sign their names - and their lives if need be to protect and defend their country, OUR country. They step up and face danger so the rest of can enjoy and embrace all the good that living in this country provides for us. The rest of America has very little knowledge of what it’s like to be in the military, and I myself can only share in part of it. I come from a military family – born on a military base to military parents. My grandfather served and worked on Air Force One for three Presidents. My uncle and brother also served, and I have a cousin who just enlisted as well. I was raised a certain way, with a set of values and code of ethics that run through my blood. I was raised to love, honor, and respect America. I was taught about the sacrifice of so many who came before me. I understand that I am blessed with a certain privilege, as is each person born in this country, whether they realize it or not. I was taught why this country was founded, something most Americans have forgotten or were neglected to have been taught in the first place. I learned to respect our government and just as they have an obligation to uphold the Constitution, we the people have a responsibility to hold them accountable. I learned from birth to always stand by and support our military, something I feel that our government is wavering on. There has become a new adage that says our military is “trained to go to war, but not to come home.” Sadly, this is true. I realize that PTSD and Military Suicide has become a hot topic, and there are efforts being made to eliminate the stigma, however, I don’t see much progress. What we have is a recurring problem with no foreseeable end. There needs to be a simultaneous, two-front initiative to battle PTSD. We need to deal with the problem of those who already have been to combat, and implement a program to better prepare the men before they even go to war in the first place. If they have the knowledge, understanding, coping skills, and support before anything happens they will be more confident that even when hard times come, they will not be forced to face their demons alone. I was fully aware that Tom would come home from Iraq with PTSD as he lacked the coping skills needed to deal with war. I remember sitting there with the other wives asking the FRO, 'What should I do?' Most of the wives thought I was jumping the gun (no pun intended) to assume my husband would come back with PTSD. I knew Tom, and I knew some of the things he encountered over there. He was fairly open with me about his close calls and scary moments. He knew I wouldn’t judge him, only be supportive. I wasn’t prepared for just how different my husband would be. I’ve said from the beginning that the man I married died in Iraq and I didn’t know the man who came home. In a sense I feel as though I lost my husband twice. When Tom returned from Iraq in April 2007 the war wasn’t over. In fact it was probably just beginning. I could tell you the all about the significant events that occurred over the next 3 years that would leave you shaking your head and just plain speechless, however we already know the story ends and I will save those 3 years for another time. The thing about our story and many like it is that it could have had a different ending. It could have had a happy ending, or even from Tom’s own indications, a much more tragic one if he had taken others with him. It probably shouldn’t need to be stated, and for some it will come as no surprise, but the issues of PTSD and suicide need to be addressed from the top down. The stigma is still there and suicide is the redheaded step-child of the military that no one wants to deal with. Even after a service member takes his own life the family is left with the stigma and the Command washing their hands of "the dirt." When we have military bases skipping out on having suicide stand downs, and Directors of Suicide Prevention intentionally sweeping suicide under the rug and being rude and lying to Gold Star suicide families (Ft. Benning), and generals like General Pittard making insensitive comments, it doesn’t create a sense of confidence that the military cares. I realize we are at war and need our military to have that warrior mentality. Personally, I think the Marine Corps is becoming too soft in all the wrong ways. Let Marines be Marines when they are at war, but teach them how to be human when they are at home.