USA — Women Learn to Fight Stress from Home Front

WASHINGTON — Dur­ing a week in which the White House pledged a vig­or­ous, whole-of-gov­ern­ment approach to sup­port­ing mil­i­tary fam­i­lies, 11 women worked dili­gent­ly a few miles away to learn to cope with the stress­es of their hus­bands’ mul­ti­ple deploy­ments and the post-trau­mat­ic stress that affects many of them when they return home.

Ten mil­i­tary wives and a fiancée met in a qui­et place the week of Jan. 24 with­out the dis­trac­tions from ring­ing phones, kids’ sched­ules and work projects. They learned cop­ing skills through resilience train­ing. They learned med­i­ta­tion, tried acupunc­ture, talked, laughed and cried. 

The “sig­nif­i­cant oth­ers,” who found out first-hand that post-trau­mat­ic stress affects entire fam­i­lies, came to the sup­port group with more ques­tions than answers. But they left armed with a bat­tery of tools to cope with the every­day stress­es of mil­i­tary life in a time of war. 

The Sig­nif­i­cant Oth­ers Sup­port Group is an off­shoot of the Spe­cial­ized Care Pro­gram their hus­bands com­plet­ed fol­low­ing a diag­no­sis of com­bat stress or post-trau­mat­ic stress, or because they had dif­fi­cul­ty read­just­ing to home life after war. Both pro­grams are based on resilience and strength-build­ing edu­ca­tion con­duct­ed by the Defense Health Clin­i­cal Cen­ter at Wal­ter Reed Army Med­ical Cen­ter here. 

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, Chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has called post-trau­mat­ic stress “the mil­i­tary health issue of our era.” He and his wife, Deb­o­rah, are well-known advo­cates of tak­ing care of the mil­i­tary fam­i­ly, tak­ing every oppor­tu­ni­ty to make it known they want war vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies to get all the help they need to cope with war’s invis­i­ble scars. 

For five days, the Sig­nif­i­cant Oth­ers Sup­port Group char­ter class stud­ied fam­i­ly roles and rela­tion­ships, how com­bat affects ser­vice mem­bers, how to raise chil­dren dur­ing a stress­ful time in a lengthy war, and how to com­mu­ni­cate about and deal with con­trol issues when the deploy­ment is over. They also learned the how to take care of them­selves, an often-over­looked need. 

“We don’t ‘cure’ peo­ple here,” said Dan Bullis, direc­tor of admin­is­tra­tion and oper­a­tions at the clin­i­cal cen­ter. “It’s the start of their jour­ney to cope with symp­toms.” Because it affects the entire fam­i­ly, efforts to con­front post-trau­mat­ic stress must be include a fam­i­ly care plan, he said. 

“[It’s] is not a lev­el play­ing field for them,” Bullis said, adding that he believes the sup­port group will become even more suc­cess­ful as word spreads to new atten­dees and sponsors. 

“In a weeks’ time,” he said, “12 to 14 [sig­nif­i­cant oth­ers] are equipped with tools to cope with life. It’s their les­son plan to take home so they can deal with the chron­ic symp­toms. They’re so overwhelmed.” 

The idea, Bullis said, was spawned from the hus­bands in the Spe­cial­ized Care Pro­gram who began say­ing, “If only my sig­nif­i­cant oth­er could get this sup­port.” A pilot pro­gram that launched with five or six women pro­gressed to the char­ter class of 11 last month, he added. 

Thanks to a $35,000 dona­tion by the non­prof­it Wal­ter Reed Soci­ety, the 11 women were brought to Wal­ter Reed on per diem trav­el, housed in a near­by hotel, and attend­ed the train­ing and edu­ca­tion, all expens­es paid. 

Design­ing the sup­port group for women came from a tried-and-true approach. 

“We had a lot of input through the years from ser­vice mem­bers to help their fam­i­lies and sig­nif­i­cant oth­ers,” said Vic­to­ria Bruner, the center’s direc­tor of clin­i­cal edu­ca­tion and train­ing, who also is a social work­er and expert in trau­mat­ic stress, with a back­ground as a reg­is­tered nurse. “Whether it’s a moth­er, broth­er, sis­ter or adult child, we built the group on the basics of what helps peo­ple heal.” 

A holis­tic approach, Bruner said, is impor­tant in an envi­ron­ment that pro­motes com­fort, heal­ing and peacefulness. 

“The [sig­nif­i­cant oth­ers] need a sense of safe­ty to feel com­fort­able to tell a sto­ry, and to con­nect to oth­er peo­ple so they know they’re not alone,” she said. “It’s impor­tant to be in a safe envi­ron­ment, where peo­ple are assured their sto­ries are hon­ored and respect­ed, so they can go as far as they want about their sit­u­a­tion, or not.” 

Late in the morn­ing on their final day togeth­er, Bruner con­duct­ed a ses­sion with the women, seat­ed in a cir­cle in a com­fort­able room adorned with plants, a wall quilt and sub­dued lighting. 

“What has this week been like for you?” she asked. Answers cir­cu­lat­ed in a flur­ry of opti­mism from the par­tic­i­pants, whose iden­ti­ties are not includ­ed in this arti­cle to pro­tect their privacy. 

“I feel less iso­lat­ed, I made close friends,” one of the women said. “We under­stand each oth­er.” “I feel empow­ered, refreshed — a part­ner with my part­ner,” anoth­er said. “I’m inspired to work as a team.” 

“It’s refresh­ing,” said a third. “I learned skills to regain my ener­gy. I feel whole again.” 

Bruner said the women in the sup­port group see signs of strength in them­selves to keep going — to bounce back and real­ize they’re not “crazy.” They learn how to prac­tice patience, be more tol­er­ant and sup­port­ive of their mil­i­tary fam­i­ly in a bal­anced man­ner, she added. 

Bruner, who lost her hus­band in Viet­nam, said it’s crit­i­cal for the women “to get the sup­port they need, to reduce the cost of war.” 

Post-trau­mat­ic stress is not new –- it’s just anoth­er name for a phe­nom­e­non that’s been rec­og­nized since the Civ­il War. “Melan­choly,” “shell shock” and “bat­tle fatigue” are among the names it’s had when it’s been observed in ser­vice mem­bers in past conflicts. 

Bullis, a for­mer Army medic who served in Viet­nam, said that dur­ing and after the Gulf War deploy­ment in 1990 and 1991, 100,000 ser­vice mem­bers com­plained of what became known as “Gulf War syndrome.” 

“It came from out of nowhere, and they had symp­toms sim­i­lar to chron­ic fatigue syn­drome,” he said. Even­tu­al­ly, with no real med­ical cause found, it was called “med­ical­ly unex­plained phys­i­cal symp­toms.” And ser­vice in the Gulf War, he added, was nev­er linked to it. 

Bullis added that 20 per­cent to 30 per­cent of those deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan can devel­op symp­toms of post-trau­mat­ic stress, but treat­ment can be suc­cess­ful if it is caught in its ear­ly stages. And med­ical staff mem­bers at mil­i­tary clin­ics world­wide are catch­ing signs of the dis­or­der at a rapid pace through rou­tine screen­ing, he added. Yet, the aver­age time it takes a ser­vice mem­ber to seek help after the onset of symp­toms is a stag­ger­ing 12 years, Bullis noted. 

“It’s an invis­i­ble wound,” he said, “and it’s always a part of war.” 

The Sig­nif­i­cant Oth­ers Sup­port Group pro­vides ses­sions on top­ics such as “Deal­ing with Adren­a­line Over­load,” “Under­stand­ing Trig­gers” and “Deal­ing with Things You Can’t Con­trol.” It also pro­vides relax­ation and focus class­es fea­tur­ing Yoga Nidra, QiGong and acupunc­ture, as well as a mas­sage donat­ed by a local spa. 

Robin Carnes — a local mind and body skills instruc­tor who teach­es relax­ation tools to the Sig­nif­i­cant Oth­ers Sup­port Group — said the tech­niques can be used at home in five min­utes a day. Her meth­ods teach the women to relax and refo­cus by “putting back life ener­gy and stor­ing it,” she said. 

“If you want to change your life,” she added, “change your prac­tice. It’s a healthy addic­tion if done every day.” 

The char­ter class of 11 sig­nif­i­cant oth­ers gath­ered one last time on the final day in a small cer­e­mo­ny. As they received cer­tifi­cates of com­ple­tion, some qui­et­ly said, “Thank you.” But one Army wife, also a vet­er­an, dropped to her knees, tear­ful­ly ges­tur­ing to the group, thank­ing every­one for the sup­port she now has, and for her husband’s suc­cess in the Spe­cial­ized Care Program. 

“This pro­gram,” she said, “gave me my hus­band back.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

Face­book and/or on Twit­ter

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →