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DEAR MS. VICKI: Husband needs help; wife needs backup

- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 5, 2009

Dear Ms. Vicki, My husband has spent three years in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past five years, and he is not even active-duty. He is in the National Guard.

He has been home for six months and is not doing well by my book. That's making it hard to communicate with him and keep our marriage going. I believe he has post-traumatic stress disorder and is using alcohol and possibly other drugs to help him cope.

I keep begging him to speak to a professional, but he refuses. He says he doesn't want to lose his job, and he doesn't want to have someone poking his nose in our business. He keeps saying he is fine, but I know he isn't.

He also feels that soldiers shouldn't get help, that it's handled in the units. Why is he using this as an excuse? I'm really afraid for him If he continues on this way; I know something bad is going to happen. Where do I turn?

- National Guard Spouse

Dear Spouse,

Soldiers are coming forth and receiving services. I know this is a difficult concept for your husband to grasp. Mental health professionals like me are doing all we can to erase the stigma of getting mental health services, and units and commanders are helping increasingly with this.

Studies show the numbers of service members coming forward and honestly reporting different changes and symptoms pre- and post-deployment are increasing. I think this is great. Unfortunately, there is still the thinking that receiving services means you are weak or unfit for duty. Some service members even think that speaking to a professional therapist could have an adverse effect on their career, i.e., loss of promotion or of a security clearance. It's actually the reverse: Not seeking services when they're needed definitely will have negative repercussions on one's career.

Though you can't make your husband reach out for services, I think it would be a good idea for you to speak to a professional counselor to help you. I think you need the support. I also think it's imperative that I validate your concerns: Your husband does need help. He needs help right now. It's only a matter of time before he has legal troubles, whether it be a DUI or problems on the job.

I'm also concerned about your support network. I think you should visit www.militaryonesource.com, which offers a host of services and resources for National Guard members and their families. You also can call and speak to someone by phone 24/7. All services are free.

I know this is a difficult time for you, and I don't want you to think that I'm placing this all on your shoulders to handle alone. I encourage you to learn more about combat stress disorders. The more you know, the more you can share with your husband. Tell him that he can get help and still keep his dignity. Try soliciting assistance from trusted family members and friends who can encourage him to seek help. Hang in there and keep in touch.

Dear Ms. Vicki,

My husband is preparing to leave for his third deployment. He's superstitious and keeps saying, "The third time is the charm." He says he knows he won't come back this time and it's only a matter of time before his luck runs out. I know he is scared, and he is saying he won't go this time, but he would be AWOL.

After two miscarriages, I just found out that I am six weeks pregnant with our first child. I know he is excited he is going to be a father and he is angry that he could miss the birth of our first child or not be around to see his child grow up.

Trust me, Ms. Vicki, I'm trying to be the voice of reason and face this like a mature adult. If he goes AWOL, it won't solve anything; it scares me to think of the problems that going AWOL would cause. He just won't listen to me and says he wants to keep his parents out of this. (In a way, I don't want to involve his parents, either. His dad has high blood pressure and his mother is a diabetic. They have stress of their own.)

Ms. Vicki, he is not listening to reason. I told my husband I will always be there to support him and that he has no reason to be suspicious. I've been asking him to pray, and we have been going to Mass more. God knows I don't know what I would do if my husband ended up arrested or worse. He is sad and looking depressed. I'm trying to help him snap out of it.

I've never been deployed or anything, but I totally understand how he feels. I'm not trying to turn in my husband or anything, but what should I do?

- AWOL Not the Answer

Dear Answer,

Numerous service members report believing their luck is running out with each deployment. Many also think like this every time they are downrange or are beyond the "wire" or off base. It's my job to help correct that "faulty" or "magical" thinking, even though we know the reality of combat.

Even though these feelings are real and normal, they also are symptoms of combat stress. I think your husband definitely has some of the symptoms, as well as symptoms of depression and anxiety, all of which are totally understandable. I applaud your efforts for being supportive and for trying to challenge his faulty thinking.

There is much help out there for your husband; he must be connected to those services. The one thing I want to encourage you to do is make a medical appointment for him with his primary care physician to discuss some of these symptoms. This is a good place to start. From that point, the physician will refer him to other services - behavioral health, psychiatry services, etc. - but I like to start with the primary care physician to rule out any other medical conditions.

This is a tough time for your husband. Even though his parents both have illnesses, I think they should be given the opportunity to share their insights and be of support to their son. You won't be "snitching" if you involve them; their help is needed right now. You also can solicit the help of your priest for guidance and support.

My last suggestion is to search online for other means of support. For example, visit www.military .com and www.militaryonesource .com, which offer a lot of information and resources for service members' families. There is still time to build a wellness plan of support for you and your husband. Congratulations on your pregnancy and please keep in touch.

Vicki Johnson is a licensed clinical social worker, military spouse and mother of three. Her column runs in The Washington Times on Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at dearmsvicki @yahoo.com.