Dear Ms. Vicki,
I am a new military girlfriend and I need some help. I have been dating my soldier for just three months, but we’ve known each other since kindergarten. I am a senior in college and he is stationed a couple of states away.
He deployed once to Afghanistan, but we were not dating at the time. He returned months ago and struggled with some post-traumatic stress but was over it quickly. Unfortunately, he was involved in an on-base accident and a life was lost. While the investigation is open, he has been flagged, counseled and removed indefinitely from his platoon. He is now doing some kind of "basic work" as his friends called it (taking out trash, etc.) in the brigade training room. Between this and the guilt from the accident, he has mentioned to his friends that he wants to kill himself.
He does not let me see him be vulnerable and hardly talks about his weekly therapy sessions. He is drinking excessively, and I am worried. His roommate called me tonight and said they have been finding him drinking alone in his room. His friends have been through similar situations in Afghanistan and are filling me in on how the grieving process plays out in the military world, but they just aren't the professionals that I know he needs to be seeing. I don't know where to turn. I've looked for resources, but since we are not yet married I cannot get military spouse support suggestions from his installation. What do I do?
-- Lost Newbie
Thank you for reaching out to me. This is very concerning to me because it sounds like your boyfriend is having extreme emotional difficulty. He appears to be very stressed and overwhelmed. This is troubling. It sounds like he is experiencing guilt because of what happened in the accident. He is blaming himself and so he thinks he doesn’t deserve to live either. It sounds like he’s worried about losing his military career, too. All of this means he is facing a difficult future.
There are some things that you can do: First, I understand that you don’t want to be the police girlfriend and have him recant his every move to you. On the other hand, this is exactly what you have to do. Encourage him to tell the truth to his counselor or therapist; they are professionals but not mind readers. His therapist needs to know that he is drinking alcohol excessively and making suicidal statements to friends.
Secondly, ask his parents and other family members to help support him. Since you have known your boyfriend since kindergarten, you probably already know his family. Both you and his parents can keep each other apprised of information concerning him.
Next, try to visit him. He needs to see people who love him. His parents and family members should visit him as much as they can and you should, too.
Fourth, you may feel that a girlfriend doesn’t have any power but I think you should still think about calling his commander or Senior NCO to let them know that he is not doing well emotionally and you are concerned. Ask them to provide more support for him. Support from his unit leaders is a well-documented protective factor against suicide.
Finally, encourage him to speak to a Chaplain or another member of the clergy to get spiritual support during these difficult times. I hope this helps and hope that your boyfriend will be okay. Thank you so much for reading the column and for writing to me.
Sincerely, Ms. Vicki