“Our troops keep our nation safe from threats here at home and around the world, and our journey forward is not sustained by those in uniform alone.”
These were President Obama’s words on Oct. 29, when he formally proclaimed November as Military Family Month. He described the countless sacrifices made by spouses and children who remain at home while their loved ones serve our country.
When service members do return from battle, the public sees only the jubilant homecoming. Rarely do we see the rest of the story, which all too often continues in darkness, as the soldier, back at home, begins to reintegrate.
It can be hard to reestablish one’s bearings. Of more than 2.5 million men and women who have served since 9/11, more than 50,000 have been physically injured, and more than 300,000 are estimated to have a traumatic brain injury. Whether the wounds are visible or invisible, coping with them places a huge burden on a service member or veteran.
While his or her family hopes simply to fall into old habits and get back to normal, that can be hard. Life has changed for the service member; “normal” itself is redefined. One in five who return from deployment have post-traumatic stress or major depression, and three in five suffer from mental health or substance use problems. But many are unwilling to seek help because of the stigma attached.
For the spouse or family member who has been anxiously awaiting this homecoming, reality can be a letdown. There are 1.1 million caregivers supporting post-9/11 service members and veterans. One-third are spouses and a quarter are parents. Suddenly finding themselves unexpected caregivers can leave them unprepared for this next phase of life. These are the unsung heroes behind our heroes.
Caring for wounded service members and veterans is demanding, and it can sometimes seem thankless. The Florida State University College of Social Work offers Operation Family Caregiver in Tallahassee and the surrounding areas. OFC provides free and confidential support to the families of those who have served our nation. Specially trained “coaches” help caregivers learn how to overcome the obstacles they face and to manage any challenges that might come along.
Started by the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving, the OFC program has proven to help caregivers become more satisfied with their lives, have fewer health issues and generally become more prepared to take care of their families. Caregivers who have completed the program report improved confidence in their ability to manage the day-to-day challenges of caregiving.
With 1.5 million veterans and more than 65,000 military active duty personnel in the state of Florida, supporting the entire family will help strengthen not only our military but also our community and our nation. It is in all of our best interests to help them — especially this month, when we are called by our president to honor military families.
Learn more about Operation Family Caregiver at csw.fsu.edu/service/ofc or contact Wendy Turney at 645-0902 to find support.
Jim Clark, Ph.D., a licensed clinical social worker, is a professor and dean of the Florida State University College of Social Work.