QUESTION: My wife just returned from Iraq.Prior to her two tours of duty, she was a loving, caring mother and wife. She now has an “edge” in her dealings with both me and our 5-year-old daughter. Since I was the sole caregiver of our child for several years, my daughter and I have a very close relationship. Fortunately, this allows me to protect her from her mother’s moodiness and seemingly inability to enjoy her company anymore. I do not know what my wife experienced while on duty as she will not talk about it. I have read up on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and am beginning to think maybe she is suffering from this trauma. I think she will get professional help if I suggest it. I know there are many mental health professionals who are now treating the “Wounded Warrior.” I’m not sure if my wife falls into this category. All I know is that my daughter wants her mother back, and I want my wife back. I want to care for her in a way she deserves. Do you have any suggestions for me?—Manuel
ANSWER: It is excellent news that your wife returned from Iraq safely. And, yes, she deserves the best care in honor of her bravery and courage. The latest studies show that PTSD may not be what is causing distressing symptoms for many of our returning war veterans. Psychologist Dr. Charles Figley, has spent his life researching trauma’s symptoms and causes, particularly in relation to war veterans. Figley suggests we need to change the way we conceptualize the psychological effects of combat on soldiers. Studies are now telling us that there is a difference between a veteran who is actually suffering the effects of PTSD and a veteran who is suffering from post-traumatic stress. The latter will eventually subside once the veteran re-integrates fully into his or her civilian life.
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Unfortunately, women in the military deal with a multitude of additional issues that do not plague their male counterparts. Many people do not see their role in war as important or as dangerous as that of their male counterparts, most likely because women are still not allowed to serve in the infantry. These perceptions are simply incorrect, but can have a negative effect on returning female veterans. If you believe your wife is suffering from PTSD, suggest she see a mental health professional. If, in time, there is improvement in her outlook on life, she may be experiencing post-traumatic stress. Hopefully, this is the case with your wife. In the meantime, continue to support her in a caring, loving manner. Allow the time necessary for her to reacquaint herself with you, your daughter and “every day” life. If she chooses to talk, listen. And allow your daughter to interact with her mother as much as possible. In time, your wife will begin to heal. In a podcast entitled Veterans and PTSD: Time for a New Paradigm?, Figley discusses these latest findings. To hear his podcast, go to: http://www.socialwork.buffalo.edu/podcast/episode.asp?ep=27. It is well worth your time.
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Patricia Smith is a certified Compassion Fatigue Specialist with 20 years of training experience. As founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project© (www.compassionfatigue.org), the outreach division of Healthy Caregiving, LLC, she writes, speaks and facilities workshops nationwide in service of those who care for others. She has authored several books including To Weep for a Stranger: Compassion Fatigue in Caregiving, which is available at www.healthycaregiving.comor Amazon.com.