Military Spouse and Family Suicide Attempts need Attention

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The wife of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had a message 13 January for those trying to prevent military suicides: Don’t forget the spouses.

In addition, a study recently reported in the New England Journal of Medicine claims a clear link between the incidents of Army wives attempting suicide and the deployment tempo of their husbands.

Deborah Mullen was shocked when Army leaders told her that they lack the ability to track suicide attempts by family members of Army personnel. 

Robert L. Hanafin
Major, U.S. Air Force-Retired
Editorial Board Member
Veterans Today News Network &
Our Troops News Ladder

     Don’t forget the Spouses when it comes to Military Suicides120pxus_navy_080126n0696m213_mrs._deborah_mullen_ships_sponsor_for_the_precommissioning_unit_dewey_ddg_105Deborah Mullen, the wife of Chairman of the JCS, Adm. Mike Mullen, said that Army leaders told her that they lack the ability to track suicide attempts by family members of Army personnel.

“I was stunned when I was told there are too many to track,” Mrs. Mullen said, speaking on stage at a military suicide prevention conference next to her husband, Adm. Mike Mullen.

She urged the military to get a better handle on the problem and implement prevention measures with spouses in mind.

“There’s another side to this and that’s family members who commit suicide,” Mrs. Mullen said. “It’s our responsibility. These are our [Military] family members.”

Military-wide, she said, it’s not clear exactly how many military family members killed themselves last year. Some military spouses, Mrs. Mullen said, are reluctant to seek mental health help because it still carries an unfortunate stigma.

“Spouses tell me all the time that they want to get mental health assistance,” she said. “As incorrect as this is, they really do believe if they seek help it will have a negative impact on their spouse’s military career.”

The military has had an increase in suicide rates among all branches since the start of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Army had a record number of suicides last year. About 1,000 people are attending the four-day suicide prevention conference.
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In addition to concerns of the wife of the military’s top flag officer, the New England Journal of Medicine released a report this month on a study done on Army wives, suicide attempts, and endless deployment of their spouses. Stating that Military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have involved the frequent and extended deployment of military personnel, many of whom are married, the medical community outside the Pentagon notes that the effect of deployment on mental health in military spouses has gone largely unstudied.

Civilian medical researchers examined electronic medical-record data for outpatient care received between 2003 and 2006 by 250,626 wives of active-duty U.S. Army soldiers. After adjustment for the sociodemographic characteristics and the mental health history of the wives, as well as the number of deployments of Army personnel, doctors from the Department of Psychiatry, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD compared mental health diagnoses according to the number of months of deployment in Operation Iraqi Freedom in the Iraq-Kuwait region and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan during the same period.

Their conclusions were that the deployment of spouses and the length of deployment were associated with mental health diagnoses. When compared with wives of military personnel who were not deployed, women whose husbands were deployed for 1 to 11 months received more diagnoses of depressive disorders, sleep disorders, anxiety, and acute stress reaction and adjustment disorders.

Deployment for more than 11 months was associated with an increase of incidents of depressive disorders, sleep disorders, anxiety, cases of acute stress reaction and adjustment disorders among Army wives.

Their overall finding should come as not surprise to any humanitarian. Prolonged military deployment was associated with more mental health diagnoses among U.S. Army wives, and these findings may have relevance for prevention and treatment efforts.

Source Information

From the Departments of Epidemiology (A.J.M., J.S.K., S.W.M.), Psychiatry (B.N.G.), and Health Policy and Management (J.P.M.), University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; and RTI International, Research Triangle Park (A.J.M.) – both in North Carolina; the Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics, and Occupational Health, McGill University, Montreal (J.S.K.); and the Department of Psychiatry, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD (C.C.E.).

ational Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-TALK (8255).

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Readers are more than welcome to use the articles I've posted on Veterans Today, I've had to take a break from VT as Veterans Issues and Peace Activism Editor and staff writer due to personal medical reasons in our military family that take away too much time needed to properly express future stories or respond to readers in a timely manner. My association with VT since its founding in 2004 has been a very rewarding experience for me. Retired from both the Air Force and Civil Service. Went in the regular Army at 17 during Vietnam (1968), stayed in the Army Reserve to complete my eight year commitment in 1976. Served in Air Defense Artillery, and a Mechanized Infantry Division (4MID) at Fort Carson, Co. Used the GI Bill to go to college, worked full time at the VA, and non-scholarship Air Force 2-Year ROTC program for prior service military. Commissioned in the Air Force in 1977. Served as a Military Intelligence Officer from 1977 to 1994. Upon retirement I entered retail drugstore management training with Safeway Drugs Stores in California. Retail Sales Management was not my cup of tea, so I applied my former U.S. Civil Service status with the VA to get my foot in the door at the Justice Department, and later Department of the Navy retiring with disability from the Civil Service in 2000. I've been with Veterans Today since the site originated. I'm now on the Editorial Board. I was also on the Editorial Board of Our Troops News Ladder another progressive leaning Veterans and Military Family news clearing house. I remain married for over 45 years. I am both a Vietnam Era and Gulf War Veteran. I served on Okinawa and Fort Carson, Colorado during Vietnam and in the Office of the Air Force Inspector General at Norton AFB, CA during Desert Storm. I retired from the Air Force in 1994 having worked on the Air Staff and Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon.

13 COMMENTS

  1. We also must not forget the husbands. I’m a veteran, a mental health professional and am married to an often-deployed military wife. Men face additional, or at least different, burdens when the spouse goes in harm’s way. Men are “supposed” to be strong, not show emotions, be independent, take things in stride while all the while substituting for mom while she’s away. The official term “dependent husband” doesn’t help any either. If men decide they do need help there’s almost nothing out there. Most support groups are specifically for women while only a handful “allow” men.
    If the military can’t track suicides among soldiers’ wives it is doubly difficult to do so for military husbands. Men are less likely to seek help, less likely to accept treatment and more likely to express their distress indirectly (e.g. drinking, fights, other dangerous activities) and when they do attempt suicide they are much more likely to succeed.
    The suggestion of more time at home for the military member will also help the husband. There should also be effort to establish and publicize support groups or activities at which men are specifically welcomed. Then it would be time to work on changing attitudes about seeking help, like the Army’s “Real Warriors” campaign for active duty. (realwarriors.net)

    Veterans Today Editorial comment:

    “If the military can’t track suicides among soldiers’ wives it is doubly difficult to do so for military husbands. Men are less likely to seek help, less likely to accept treatment and more likely to express their distress indirectly (e.g. drinking, fights, other dangerous activities) and when they do attempt suicide they are much more likely to succeed.”

    Excellent insight and focus W. Frank Boyer, Sir.

    The collective WE, with a combination of WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam Vet mentality take it for granted that today’s Armed Forces is still a man’s world and in far too many ways YES it still is. Meaning the only good military spouse is a WOMAN.

    I am a personal witness to the transition from an all female military spouse pool to a growing number of male spouses married to military who just may not be military members.

    That said, I am also among those who take it for granted that in such cases of increasing number of male spouses married to military it is the norm for military to marry well MILITARY.

    This too is not all together true.

    Regardless, the thoughts you bring up are very valid. However, it also goes to show that maybe, just maybe, the old officers and NCOs wives clubs dominated by the female spouses of the highest ranking officers and NCOS may still dominate the military spouse community. Until such time that the male spouse of higher ranking female officers (Generals and such) and NCOs (Command Sergeant Majors, Command Chiefs and such) begin to make an impact on such female dominated groups, male spouses are going to be very reluctant to participate.

    Add to this the fact that the military wives of the WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam War generation were predominantly stay at home wives who wore the rank of their military member husbands has more that ever been dismantled by the reality that most younger wives work outside the home, maybe even off the base, and are in their own careers makes the situation of the more progressive elements of military families clash with the most traditional aspects of CONFORMITY expected by the military services.

    The Armed Forces has been a hotbed and proving ground of American social experiments such as the integration of races and such, but apparently has a long way to go in achieving the integration of men married to female military members.

    Throw in the lack of national commitment to the wars their spouses must conform to and fight in (maybe being killed or wounded) and the problems become ten fold.

    Is the final solution is to CAUTION that military only marry military members so that both couples are committed to the conformity that the military expects – MAYBE SO.

    The feedback we are getting from broken marriages caused by the wars, lack of national commitment, or even ability for the rest of American society to RELATE, tells us that it maybe prudent for civilians who know nothing of the military social system might think twice or ten times before marrying anyone in the military.

    That frankly is a very hard reality for me to personally come to, since I am married to the same woman for over 30 years, who survived the military spouse community, managed to maintain her own career, raise children, and so on despite me having been in both the Army during Vietnam when I met her, and the Air Force during the Gulf War half way through our 30 marriage and counting.

    However, we were not put through the pressure, strain, and pain that military families experience today, nowhere near that kind of challenge on our marriage.

    I really feel that had my same wife met me today, and I was a Veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan determined upon a military career, she would seriously think twice before marrying me and the Army or Air Force unless of course she too was in the Army or Air Force. But that’s only my humble opinion, based on MY experience with the military and civil service.

    Robert L. Hanafin
    Major, U.S. Air Force-Retired
    Veterans Today News

  2. Sent to Veterans Today via email

    Of course this is occurring. And of course the military is trying to cover it up. The Stepford wives finally get to the point they can’t cope with being non-persons. And of course the wives aren’t seeking help. They’ve been brainwashed into believing that they aren’t important, only their husbands and their careers. And when their reason for existing, is deployed overseas and due to their total dependency, they no longer have the power and control person in their home, they sink into suicidal depression. And they can’t expect any help from any of the other Stepford wives or anybody else on the base, so when their depression and despair reaches a dark depth, they try suicide and many succeed, if not the first time, then with further attempts when they are ostracized by those who are supposed to help them, including their husbands.

    Bobbie Christian

  3. Amanda,

    Thanks for you feedback and insight into Tricare Prime Remote. Most of our readers are not going to understand what Tricare is much less Tricare Prime Remote. But if I understand you based on my experience with Tricare since back in the day (1994) when it was experimental AND FREE to everyone. Our military family was first stationed then retired (temporarily) in the San Bernadino area of CA. Every Air Force Base within a 100 mile radius closed during the first BRAC. We experienced first hand the adventure that Tricare can be for a family that doesn’t live near a military base.

    Throw in Mental Health (excuse me Behavioral Health) and the situation can get even more complex for military members and retirees much less spouses. When I think of Tricare Prime Remote today, what comes to mind in the National Guard, Reserves and families that do not live near a military base. Your situation is compounded even more by living in what sounds like a rural area (a similar problem Veterans have with access).

    You say that if there was better behavioral health care coverage from Tricare, more family members would seek help. I don’t doubt this one bit. I’m not sure about active duty members, because reporting for Mental Health treatment is still closely monitored by their Chain of Command, but I know that military retirees can seek Mental Health treatment off base and not even have to go through their Primary Care Provider on base. Not sure how that works for dependents retired or not.

    Checking out what Tricare says about the types of treatment covered and so on is an adventure in itself. In fact, I and my off base Mental Health clinic got so frustrated with the constant paperwork required by Tricare to renew coverage that I was dropped when my Psychiatrist dropped Tricare. Now, I get my treatment and medication maintenance on base, and refuse to have anything to do with the TRICARE system. http://www.tricare.mil/mybenefit/home/MentalHealthAndBehavior/TypesOfTreatments/Psychotherapy?

    Once a dependent or retiree is able to get into an on base program the trick is staying in one. As you well know we are on a space available basis. Heck it I had to depend on a Marine or Army base I might as well wrap it up.

    Seriously, I feel for your situation from a remote or rural area. Your comments are right on the mark. However, don’t hold your breath waiting for Tricare to make seeking Mental or Behavioral Health coverage more accessible in remote areas. Finding a Mental Health clinic off base that one feels comfortable with and can trust is not an easy feat in many small towns. You get out into farming villages and such and the pool of such services is even less.

    The co-pays for dependents and even military retirees can be expensive and ill affordable. Maybe no big deal for a retired Field Grade officer or above like me, but for a mid-rank NCO or even E7, E8, or E9 who has to seek such services for their spouse, kids, or themselves those co-pays add up.

    AND the Pentagon (civilians that is) has been constantly trying to raise the premiums and copays for TRICARE. If not for the lobbying of Retired Officer, NCO, and Fleet retirees of all ranks, we could see annual premiums skyrocket.

    Bobby Hanafin
    Major, U.S. Air Force-Retired
    Veterans Today News Network

  4. “As an Air Force wife I would like to clear up a misconception… our guys deploy for four months at a time, but often redeploy after only two or three months home so in the long run they are deployed as long, if not longer, than soldiers and Marines.” Dea

    Dea,

    First thank you for your response, and the misconception that the Air Force and Navy have not been pulling their weight as ‘boots on the ground’ is I believe in relation to overall Air Force and Navy personnel. That is not to say that no Air Force or Navy personnel are not deploying nor paying the ultimate price in sacrifice.

    It is common knowledge that both the Air Force and Navy have and do deploy Airmen and Sailors to the war zones, and some in a foot Soldier’s role. Most notable for the Air Force has been transportation units, logistics units, Security Police, and of course medical personnel. Then of course there are the aircrews who fly troops and equipment to the war zones plus let’s not forget the honorable but stressful job of flying the fallen back to Dover AFB with dignity. The most notable in the Navy has been the Sea bees, navy coastal patrol boats similar to the Swift Boats of Vietnam, plus similar units as the Air Force (transportation, logistics, civil engineering, medical, and so on).

    However, there has been an impression, even within the Air Staff and DoD that an attitude that “I didn’t join the Air Force or Navy to become and Infantry Man (or Women),” was prevalent and was just not going to fly in the War on Terror given the shortage of people needed to sustain never ending deployments.

    An attitude I must say that I know the Air Force is proactively working on changing.

    Note my article on Air Force cracks down on combat deployment exemptions.

    Dea, though this doesn’t obviously pertain to your husband, Airmen trying to get out of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan has been a real concern for the Air Force. This data in fact comes from the Air Staff.

    “The Air Force has steadily tightened deployment exemptions – from yanking medical waivers to cutting training assignments.” Military Times.

    Military Times, the parent publication of Air Force Times, reports that the Air Force has been consistently cracking down on Airmen seeking exemption and waivers to get out of deployments in Iraq or Afghanistan.

    As noted in the article, Air Force Expeditionary Force (AEF) units can deploy from a low of 90 days to high of six month tours, and most Airman face only one tour compared to the grueling Army and Marine ground troops six months to a year or more on multiple tours.

    “A low of 90 days to high of six month tours,” Dea that falls within the window of what you say your husband is pulling. The info on single tours also comes from the Air Staff as I believe an average, so you husband is evidently getting screwed on average.

    I believe that the Air Force is now doing a much better job at preparing Airmen to be boots on the ground. Check out the Air Force Expeditionary Force Center photo gallery of Airmen being given what looks like Basic Infantry Training. http://www.expeditionarycenter.af.mil/photos/mediagallery.asp?page=1

    Dea, I assume your husband has been through this training that is conducted by the Army, if not then he is really getting screwed.

    Robert L. Hanafin
    Editorial Board Member
    Veterans Today News Network &
    Our Troops News Ladder

  5. I think if there was better behavioral healthcare coverage from Tricare, more family members would seek help. I know that when my husband was deployed, we lived in a Tricare Prime Remote region, and the nearest network provider was an hour away – one way. My son’s visits still cost us $100 out of pocket. We were told if it had been the soldier, it’d all be covered, but not as much is covered for family members. Sometimes people don’t avoid getting help because of the stigma, but some can’t afford it.

  6. AAAUUUGHGHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!

    VA SCREWED MY HUSBAND AGAIN!!!!!

    THEY ARE HEARTLESS and i will stop right there…..

    AAAAUUUUGGHHHH!!!!!!!!!!! fits

  7. as an Air Force wife I would like to clear up a misconception… our guys deploy for four months at a time, but often redeploy after only two or three months home so in the long run they are deployed as long, if not longer, than soldiers and Marines. We don’t get the special vacation rates at military resorts since we dont get R&R either. Since the wars started in 2002 my husband has been home for three Christmas’s, two New Years, and two anniversaries. We don’t get dwell time so we have no idea when he will be called up again. He’s in a short staffed, but highly needed, career field. No he’s not a pilot or working on planes, he’s on the ground making sure soldiers and Marines can do their jobs and they come back safely.

  8. We at Veterans Today believe the simple solution is to cut down the number of Army (and Marine) deployments, increase dwell time (time at home with military families), increase the number of deployments from services not traditionally used as ground forces (Air Force and Navy) to not only spread the burden sharing of ground force JOINT operations but allow Army units more time at home with less deployments.

    The ideal would of course to either implement the draft (Selective Service) or end the war(s) in Iraq and Afghansitan, but that is not going to happen.

    Burden sharing by all military services is the only solution to avoiding the draft.

Comments are closed.