- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 17, 2008

Dear Ms. Vicki,

My husband returned from his fourth deployment in September and it has been hell living with him ever since. To be honest, he seemed to have changed with each deployment, but this last one seemed to be the worst for him.

I’m not sure what he saw or what his experience was, but something is very wrong with him and he refuses to report it or get help. He has terrible nightmares, so much that I’m afraid to sleep with him for fear that he may hurt me. I know he would not willfully hurt me, but I just don’t know what could happen while he is asleep and flailing his arms and kicking.

He drinks alcohol every day when he comes home from work and all of the time on the weekends. He eats very little food. He refuses to talk about it when I try to get him to open up. He just says nothing is wrong with him. This can’t be true.

Ms. Vicki, he didn’t even want to go to his family reunion in Oregon this summer. This is not like him; he would never miss a family reunion. All he does is stay alone. I’m at my wit’s end and I don’t know how to get him to get help.

Should I give him an ultimatum? Do you have any suggestions? How can I convince my husband in a loving way to get some help? - Wife Stressed By War

Dear Wife,

Thank you for writing and sharing your story with me and others. I know there are many spouses out there, both male and female, who can identify with your situation.

First, it appears that your husband is suffering from combat-stress-related reactions. You report he has completed his fourth deployment. Research shows combat stress increases with each deployment. He also has some symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. However, I will not try to give him that diagnosis because as a clinician I believe much testing should be done before giving someone a PTSD diagnosis.

It’s imperative that your husband be seen by a medical professional. There are many resources available to help him. Your question to me was how to encourage him to get help. This is the hard part, because we can’t make him get help; he will have to want to do so.

During his redeployment, he attended seven days of reintegration that included a health screening. On or about the 100th day of his redeployment, he attended the same type of reintegration, which included a health screening where a series of mental health questions were asked. I’m not sure when your husband began experiencing these symptoms, but many service members will not tell the truth on these surveys. They feel it will be a sign of weakness or that they will no longer be fit for duty.

So here are some suggestions to help you. First, be sure to call your 911 service for any emergencies. If your husband was in distress, they would intervene and get him to the nearest emergency room.

Second, solicit help from trusted family members or friends who may be able to impart some wisdom and encourage him to seek professional help. This trusted friend also could be a member of the clergy. Try to find his battle buddies or others with whom he served in combat. They would be able to validate his experience and also encourage him to seek help. With this intervention, I’m hoping he would at least agree to a visit with his physician to begin a discussion about his symptoms. At any rate, he should take the first available appointment even if his primary care manager is not available to see him.

Third, please use this time to educate yourself about combat stress and PTSD. You can find many resources on the Military One Source Web site and others. I also would encourage you to contact the Wounded Soldier and Family Hotline. It is staffed 24/7 at 800/984-8523. They really want to listen and help connect you to services. They also will connect you with a counselor who could help you establish a safety plan, if it’s needed.

Don’t give your husband an ultimatum at this time. I think doing so would only make him withdraw even more and perhaps back him into a corner. Stay encouraged and stay in touch.

Vicki Johnson, a licensed clinical social worker, military spouse and mother of three, has been counseling service members and their families for 15 years. Her column, Dear Ms. Vicki, runs in The Washington Times on Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at [email protected]

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