We are facing a broken system. I have said this many times to my husband, a USMC reservist with two deployments and 10 years of service under his belt, and he scoffed at me. Me, a spouse, couldn’t possibly understand “the system.”
Having heard the stories, met the spouses, held hands with those who have been effected, I have seen first hand how broken the system that was built to support our service members is. But now, in light of a recent situation, my husband has told me that he sees it.
I’m going to share with you a story of a young Marine, who has served his country and how we have failed him.
This young man has never seen combat, he has never deployed, he was not injured in the line of duty, but he is ill. He cried for help one weekend, away from home, to the only man he trusts, my husband, his superior. He created a plan to take his own life, but my husband intervened. My husband sat with him for hours at the hospital, supporting a man who felt he had no one else. He was released from the hospital and sent home.
After a few days my husband had not heard from this Marine in 36 hours. He grew more and more concerned with each hour that passed. He finally received a phone call from a doctor, but panic rose in his system. Had this young man finally succeeded? No, he checked into a hospital to seek help, but not a VA hospital, a civilian one.
You see, this man, who loves his country enough to freely sign a contract binding him to serve his nation, was told that his nation would not help him. Because he has never seen combat, because he was not injured in the line of duty, because his illness is not PTSD from combat related stress, and because he is a reservist, the military has denied him help.
My husband and a fellow Marine spent hours calling every resource they could, from the VA all the way down to Military One Source. Each time they were told that no one would help them find this young Marine help because he is a reservist who does not qualify for psychiatric care benefits.
Were he to be active duty, it would be a different story. He would not only get counseling, but long-term psychiatric care. But, this young Marine, the hardest worker my husband says he has ever known, has fallen through the cracks of a broken system, because his civilian insurance does not offer mental health coverage and the military does not deem him qualified for the benefits.
When what this young man so desperately needs is long-term psychiatric care, he was told that a few free counseling sessions though Military One Source is all that he can hope for.
One statistic that goes largely unreported is that the Reserve side of the military faces nearly as many suicides as the active duty side does. This epidemic does not care what type of contract you have signed, what your rank is or what unit you are attached to. Nor does it care what benefits you are entitled to.
It’s impossible to know whether all of these suicides are combat related, but I’m betting they are not. I’m betting that many of these men and women have also fallen through the cracks of the broken system that was put into place to help them. The fear that if you seek help for PTSD your service record will be negatively impacted, combined with the fact that men and women who try to seek help for non-service related issues and are denied, are proof that this safety net is not, in fact, a safety net.
This young man did the right thing. He reached out to a superior he trusted and sought help. But he was denied because of his status as a Reservist who has never seen combat.
It is possible his service record will have a blemish now, and we don’t know how this situation will impact his career in the Marine Corps. But I have to wonder: If this can affect his record, if his mental status can blemish his career, why does it not also then qualify him for help?
I fear what will happen if the system in place is never fixed, but who is going to stand up and shout for change? When will the voices of those who have been failed by our military be loud enough to be heard?
I’m not sure if they ever will. As long as we are afraid to speak up when our spouses need help for fear of what it will do to their careers, as long as those who seek help and are denied are too wounded to fight back and as long we continue to accept things the way there are, there will never be change.
I can only hope that this Marine can get the help he needs. It is much more important that he get treatment, than that he be forced to worry about his career. But it’s heartbreaking that he has to worry about both at all.
A Girl, who prefers to keep her work anonymous, began blogging in 2008 as a means of coping with deployment. She is a Veterinary Technician by trade and loves her work in Emergency and Critical Care. She has been married for four years to a 10 year USMC reservist with whom she has three very bratty dogs. You can read her ramblings about reserve life, muddling through the aftermath of a very difficult deployment and life in general at A Boy, A Girl and the Marine Corps: A Love Triangle, via her Facebook page or on Twitter @BoyGirlUSMC.