The Zombie Apocalypse: Mental Health For Military Families

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(Lane Plummer/DVIDS)

Having been an Army wife for nearly two decades now, I often lose sleep over military families. I have seen people with PTSD. I have seen them grapple with the newly coined Secondary PTSD. I am struck by the host of familial problems that come with repeat combat deployments in a climate of an OpTempo that is insane and inhumane.

Statistically, we can probably make a case that 90-95% of these military family members will never commit suicide. But they are the walking dead.

Jacey Eckhart wrote about downplaying the threatened “storm” of military family suicides. I think she -- and many others -- are missing something important. Because a funny thing happens in prolonged stress and trauma called disassociation.

If you have lived on any Army installation in the past eleven years you have learned to notice the very real look of disassociation. It’s in the glazed over eyes. The apathy. The zombie-like “left-right-left when you’re going through hell just keep going left-right-left” drudging along year after year.

The general lack of hooah from military spouse to soldier is not often mentioned in polite company. It lies like a serpent in wait for that stolen moment in private conversation.

I will second Jacey’s belief that a coming military family suicide wave is statistically improbable. But the Zombie Apocalypse of mental health issues is already here, lurching for resources, moaning for recognition and sadly rarely being answered.

If we learned anything post-Vietnam it is that the bills of veteran health come due 30-40 years after engagement. To think that there is not a coming wave of military family mental health issues is naïve.

Even if we accept at face value the DoD’s earlier claim that they do not keep family mental health statistics (even though military dependents medical information is of record in DEERs and even though any resulting suicide would surely be annotated on the cause of death line in a DEERs update) mental health care is severely lacking for military dependents and service members alike.

I urge the President to allocate resources for an independent research study on military family mental health, now, today, not 30-40 years from now.

As an Organizational Behaviorist by profession, I know that the real data is unlikely to be mined by the DOD. It’s too close to the proverbial fire and has too much personal bias. Instead, the DoD should cooperate with a leading university who can be impartial and more results oriented.

The very real stigma of mental health care still exists and most people seeking care are still turned away and if they find care it is off, not on, post.

We are not receiving adequate mental health care. That is the real issue here. Suicides will always be a tiny minority at the tip of the iceberg which is military family mental health issues. We should not be counted only when placed in the ground.

Sabrina King is an Army spouse married to an active duty soldier for nearing two decades. She is the daughter of a Vietnam era vet, the granddaughter of a retired Naval officer, and the mother of a soon to be Naval recruit. She currently resides in New York State.

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