Spouse Calls: The best help comes in person
January 31, 2010
Sheryl is a career Army wife affected by post-traumatic stress disorder. Struggling to obtain counseling for herself and her children, Sheryl wrote: "My next goal and challenge is to speak out and make the military listen to me. I don’t want this to happen to another family, and I will … speak out loud and try and make it better for those who are behind me."
Soon after her comments appeared in a recent Spouse Calls column, I received an e-mail from Col. David Schall, Command Surgeon for U.S. European Command.
He didn’t take issue with Sheryl’s complaint or send me a list of Web sites to prove the military is doing something for families affected by PTSD.
He asked what he could do to connect Sheryl with the help she needed.
Knowing that many more "Sheryls" are out there, I asked Schall about resources for families affected by PTSD.
He and Lt. Col. Marianne Schlitt of EUCOM’s Quality of Life component provided their insights about connecting people with needed care.
It seems to me that information about combat stress is everywhere. AFN commercials tell us to call our chaplains. A mouse click yields plenty of PTSD Web sites. Tricare brochures list "Behavioral Health Services" for members and families, including psychotherapy, psychological testing, family therapy and more.
Why do some military families not find the help they need?
Schlitt said she believes people get overwhelmed by their problems, or are confused about where to begin. Their search for answers uncovers more questions.
"What’s the first port of entry?" spouses might wonder, she said.
"Is it the chaplains … family support, is it the medical community? Where do you go to get entry into the system when you need help?"
All these resources can open the door to care. Both Schlitt and Schall emphasized that well-informed communities and leaders can identify and reach out to those in need.
For the families, knowing what help is available and where to find it are essential, so some research is required.
"Go out there and read about PTSD" on reputable sites, Schall advised military spouses.
"Read about your Tricare benefits," he said. "Know what professionals are saying — that early intervention is better than late."
Schlitt emphasized persistence: "Don’t give up. If you don’t get the answer you want or you think is a reasonable answer, continue to seek that out."
"Know your rights; know where to go and be persistent," she said. "It’s so easy just to get frustrated when I’ve already asked ten people, but maybe the eleventh person has the information I need."
The oft-discussed stigmas of combat stress and seeking mental health care are also hindrances to getting treatment, both Schlitt and Schall agreed.
"A lot of spouses are hesitant even to report things because of that concern. They don’t want to affect their spouse’s career," Schlitt said.
Good health is a priority, too, and mental health issues are just as real as physical injuries, Schall said. Like physical injuries, they can often be treated and managed.
"You can return them to wellness," he said. "Everybody has some degree of mental health challenges, and there are days when we need help."
"Whether we get that from a spouse, a friend or whoever, you can’t do it alone," he said "You can only suck up so much, and it’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help."
Information is vital, and I admit I did post a list of links on the Spouse Calls blog, about help for PTSD and Tricare benefits.
But the doctor’s response to Sheryl reminded me that the most powerful resource is one wearing skin — someone who asks, "How can I help?"
Terri Barnes is a military wife and mother of three. She lives and writes in Germany. Write to her at email@example.com and see the Spouse Calls blog at: http://blogs.stripes.com/blogs/spousecalls .