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Some seek mental health checks for spouses of multiple-deployed soldiers

By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 5, 2009

GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — While the Army has been working to gauge the mental health toll of multiple deployments on soldiers, some Army leaders and spouses say the service is moving too slowly to address similar effects on military family members.

Spouses face day-to-day pressure while soldiers are away and very little is being done for them at home, according to Rebecca Sinclair, the wife of 172nd Infantry Brigade commander Col. Jeff Sinclair.

“Are our spouses going to be OK? Not just healthwise — getting shot. Are they going to be the same person they were when [the soldier] left? After two or three deployments, there’s a chance they might not be,” she said.

The stresses on soldiers’ wives were highlighted by the recent suspected suicide of a 172nd spouse in Schweinfurt, according to Lt. Col. Eric Stetson, 172nd Infantry Brigade rear detachment commander. The Army investigation into that death is continuing.

“What exactly is the toll on our spouses from these repeated deployments?” Stetson asked. “The Army is putting a lot of energy into the impact of multiple deployments on soldiers. Maybe we need to have the same focus on the impact of multiple deployments on spouses and families.”

Some of the unit’s families are going through their third or fourth deployment, he said.

The brigade, which deployed twice to Iraq as the 2nd “Dagger” Brigade, is halfway through a yearlong mission south of Baghdad.

“The effects on soldiers of multiple deployments are compounding,” he said.

“The impact on spouses ... it’s the same way. We are starting to see that more and more.”

And the war impacts military families living overseas more than those back home, Rebecca Sinclair said.

“In the States, you could make friends through your church or neighborhood,” she said. “If you have to, you can go to your mom’s or dad’s or a friend. Here it is much more difficult.”

Mental health issues have been pushed to the forefront after more than 140 soldiers committed suicide during 2008, up from 115 in 2007.

But the Army doesn’t track suicides among family members, said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, an Army spokesman, mainly because in many cases, the incidents happen off post or involve reservists or guardsmen.

In those cases, civilian authorities handle the investigations.

During a recent gathering for spouses in Grafenwöhr, Rebecca Sinclair said the Army needs to tailor a suicide prevention program for spouses.

Currently, suicide briefings given to Family Readiness Groups are the same given to soldiers and focus only on preventing the suicide of a soldier, she said.

“We need to know what to do if we see that in other spouses,” said Sinclair, the mother of 6- and 8-year-old boys.

The Army is developing something similar to the interactive videos presented to soldiers that would address suicide prevention for dependents and civilians during predeployment, deployment and postdeployment periods, Garver said.

In the meantime, the Army has increased the number of military family life consultants in its communities, Stetson said.

Consultants are trained social workers and family counselors who travel overseas on short tours to be sounding boards for families and to offer professional opinions on where they can find additional help.

“It is important for our soldiers and family members to recognize when they need professional assistance dealing with life’s problems,” he said. “There is no shame in that. It is the right thing to do because this is not an easy lifestyle.”

Spouses don’t get courses and training to prepare them for multiple deployments as soldiers do, Stetson said, adding that he and his wife sought advice from a family life consultant for relationship issues stemming from his time downrange.

“The repeated deployments and stresses have impacted on my relationship with my wife,” he said.

“[Visiting a family life consultant] helped provide [a check] to us on how we were communicating with each other. I’d recommend it to anybody, especially for family relationships.”


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