What a great example to better understand combat stress! Major Jeff Hall, US Army and his wife Sheri, agreed to meet with the DoD Bloggers Roundtable to discuss their lives with combat stress and his struggles with suicide. Jeff’s comparison of boxing to the effects of combat stress and peace time fit the warrior ethos! We may not feel the pain of combat stress while engaged in combat or even combat support but it can kick our butt later!
|September is Suicide Prevention Month - Logo from DCoE|
“I was never fearful for Jeff’s life while he was in combat, since I knew that he trained himself well. But that all changed when Jeff returned and began having suicidal thoughts. I told him that while I didn’t know the effects of combat, I knew that something was wrong. It was hard because he kind of pushed me and our two daughters away.”
I asked, “why did it take that long to seek help?” and Jeff said it was stigma driven. That warrior feeling of toughness but he felt like the “cat was out of the bag”, “career was over” and he was “scared to death”. He was shocked that his commander knew of resources to help him. Jeff ended up at Walter Reed in a three week program to begin his recovery.
Sheri's Turning Point? “When Jeff did not want to live anymore”
I was shocked to hear Sheri say that other military spouses did not help during their two and a half year struggle with combat stress and suicide issues. She had felt that she was in this alone until she went to the commander. His spouse was the first to open the door and was very helpful. Now she has found that most military spouses feel the same way when their warrior is struggling with suicide issues.
What does she recommend for spouses of service members returning from deployments?
“As a military spouse you are often the first one to notice when something is different when your service member returns from combat. Look for signs; changes in sleep patterns, aggression, mood swings, lack of engagement with family, loss of interest and most importantly keep that line of communication as open as possible.”
Sheri felt that the resources are now available for everyone through the Real Warrior Campaign. “Help is out there” and within reach of military families. I asked how they dealt with their daughters during dad’s illness. Jeff said they did not do the best for the kids and recommended talking to your kids early about combat stress issues. Sheri added that at Ft Riley the Army Community Services (ACS) is a resource with “The New Normal” program at DoD schools and reaching out to schools around military installations as well.
When the subject turned to Guard and Reserve forces, they both became animated about ways to help through the Real Warrior Campaign and Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. Jeff, currently assigned to 1st Army, at Rock Island Arsenal, helps prepare Army Reserve and Guard forces for deployment. With specific Guard programs and even regional ones like the one I recently wrote about – “Getting Veteran Care in New England through the Home Base program” they said no one is left behind!
They both said the culture is changing in the Army. With leadership that has seen the combat first hand moving up in the ranks, they are providing resources and know how to help with combat stress, like Jeff’s commander did. It does not have to be a career or life ending illness. Get help today – Now! Call the Outreach Center at 866-966-1020! 24/7! No need for another loss to suicide!
If you would like to hear the Hall's discussion or read a transcript of their Roundtable please go to DoDLive; you can read more Col K's blogs on the Blogger Roundtables or on the subject of PTSD as well.