- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dear Ms. Vicki,

Ever since my wife returned from Iraq, she’s been having nightmares, waking up with sweats, even screaming and yelling. She won’t eat, and she is losing weight. I feel like she is hiding from everybody; she says she doesn’t feel like socializing.

When I try to talk to her about everything, she just cries and says I won’t understand. The little she does discuss lets me know she must have seen too much for her to handle. My wife says leaders can’t discuss their problems or it will affect future promotions. Is this true? Is there any help for my wife?

- Worried Husband

Dear Worried,

Thanks for writing and for being concerned about your wife. Her symptoms are very familiar - she is not alone. It is very common for service members of all ranks to seek and receive help regarding the effects of their combat experience.

It would be inappropriate for me to try to diagnose your wife; however, she does have some symptoms of combat stress and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These disorders affect men and women of all ages and all socioeconomic levels. Anyone who has experienced trauma - victims of crime or abuse and combat veterans, for example - can have this disorder. It’s not her fault, and she is not alone.

Your wife should start with her primary care physician, discussing the symptoms with him or her. Other medical conditions will be ruled out by visiting with the primary care physician first. This is crucial to any mental health diagnosis.

The primary care physician can refer your wife to other mental health services, as appropriate, for an assessment. The assessor may recommend treatment, such as individual or group counseling. Military hospitals are employing family-centered services, which means your participation is important to successful treatment for your wife. Encourage your spouse to make an appointment immediately.

In the meantime, you should visit Web sites such as www.military.com or www.militaryonesource.com. They contain information and resources so you can learn about combat stress and PTSD.

You can call Military OneSource (800/342-9647) to speak with a professional counselor by phone 24/7. This person will offer support and guidance. They also can refer you to a counselor in your community for face-to-face counseling. I wish you well. Stay in touch.

Dear Ms. Vicki,

Sending my husband back to Afghanistan after R&R; was the worst experience I’ve ever had. If I had to do it all over again, I would rather him not come home. I drove him all the way to Atlanta to fly back so we could spend more time together. The drive back home was unbearable.

For the past two weeks, I have been more depressed and just can’t seem to get going again. I even quit my job. It seems that time isn’t moving anymore and the thought of my husband not returning until October is unbearable. Do you have any advice?

- Sad After R&R;

Dear Sad,

There is no right or wrong way to handle R&R.; It’s normal to feel a range of emotions at this time. R&R; is a time to relax and to visit with spouses, children, friends and other loved ones; even to get some much-needed sleep if possible.

Conversely, just as you reported, many say it is difficult to say goodbye after an R&R; visit. You have to establish patterns and routines all over again. I am concerned that your depression has left you debilitated to the point that you quit your job. Make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible to discuss these symptoms.

Also, reach out to your family, friends and supportive neighbors for help. Plan a visit to see family and close friends soon. Something got you through this deployment so far - reach deep within to discover what that was and do the same thing again.

Again, contact your doctor for an appointment, be encouraged and take care of yourself. I think you have the strength that will help you make it through. Let me know how you are doing.

Reader responses:

Dear Ms. Vicki,

I’m 19 and I recently moved to the D.C. area because my husband is stationed in the Army here. I admit it isn’t the best place in the world to live, but I knew this. It’s expensive and we can’t afford much, but there is a lot to see and do here that is free.

People may not believe it, but this place has a small-town atmosphere, too. I find myself looking at some of the same wives I see on base with their husbands off-base kissing and hanging out with other men. I can’t help but wonder if these are the same wives that write to you saying that the Army is the source of their problems or that their husbands they’ve been married to for years are the source of these problems. I mean didn’t they know when they got married that there was a chance their husbands would be deployed?

I don’t think it’s fair to press these kinds of concerns on our husbands when most of them are just getting back from tours to Iraq! I want to say that many of these women are young women that thought military men were rich or had some kind of money. You can’t expect to have your husband take care of you if you’re not trying to take care of yourself. My husband always says he can’t do everything, but he would try his best to help me if he sees that I’m trying to do it and not just waiting for him to do it for me.

So for all you young women out there, realize your husband has a job to do, and for most of us, their duty was to their country before it was to us. That’s not something you can just give back. I understand that there is a lot of stress put on the families of these men, but for most of us, the ones who know this is something our husbands choose to do and are not being forced, it makes it that much more special when they are home with us.

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.

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