What family and friends can do to help their veterans?

  • Let the veteran know that you’re there for support but don’t be offended if he/she does not feel like talking.
  • Be supportive – not judgmental.
  • Unless you have been in a combat situation as a soldier, please do not say you understand what they have been through or try to make justifications to make them feel better. Just listen.
  • Be patient.
  • Ask them to tell you what they need help with, as it is difficult for them to ask for help.
  • Be kind but honest about your feelings. 
  • Agree upon rules for discussing difficult subjects. Such as bringing subject up in a calm environment and use “I Statements” as opposed to “You Statements” which can sound like an attack; do not interrupt; if the conversation escalates, agree to reconvene once emotions have calmed. 
  • Try not to wake them up quickly or startle them when they're awake as they may not realize right away where they are.
  • Encourage the veteran to get support or continue support.
  • If you see that the veteran is retreating within, try to get him/her out to do something different – preferrably to an uncrowded place: take a walk or a drive, go to a friend's house for dinner.
  • Make plans to be out of town for Independence Day where there are no fireworks: National Parks are a great escape.


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Spouses share insights...

The following insights are shared by Sarah Allyson Bowers, a military spouse. Sarah Allyson's husband returned home from Iraq with PTSD and TBI.


What have people said/done that helps?
  • I have a wonderful Bible study that I attend and the ladies have been so helpful. One lady has invited me to supper at her house and just to go to the park or the mall with her. Sometimes I just need a break from the things at my house. The group also lets me just talk sometimes about what is going on without judging.

  • I have a couple of friends that text me and ask how I am doing throughout the week. And I have a friend that just chats with me frequently on IM (instant message) to see how I am doing and things are going, making sure that I am doing things for myself.


What have people said/done that hurts?
  • The thing that people have said that has hurt me the most is that my husband needs to rely on God more and not medicines. These people have not been in the situation and they have no idea what all my husband is going through. It hurts because I feel as though they are judging him/us without knowledge. Another thing that hurts is I had a friend e-mail and tell me I was pulling away from her because I had not called or texted lately. People do not realize how upside down my life is right now and I wish they would take time to understand. Also I have some friends that do not understand and so they do not know what to do so they back off completely.


What I wish people understood:
  • I wish people understood that we are the same people we have always been we are just facing different challenges.

  • I wish people understood was that although my husband looks normal he does have wounds that are very deep and it does affect his thinking and they way we do things, for people to be gentle and patient about this.

  • That they would not be quick to judge but slow to listen. Be patient and do not input if they do not understand or have not been through the same situation.

  • Understand that I love my husband, immeasurably and that leaving him is not an option. Would they leave some who becomes diabetic?

  • There are good days where I can do things outside of the home and there are days where I can not. Life can get chaotic for us so I may not remember as well as I used to to call people.

  • And please, if you want to understand just ask. I want to inform people as much as I can. I want to be transparent.


How people can pray for me? My spouse? My kids?
  • Pray for God's glory through all of this.

  • Pray that we learn how to rely on Him more and us less.

  • Pray that I would seek God's will in all of this and how I can be a better informer to those who do not understand.



___________________________________________________________



The following insights are shared by Patti Katter, military spouse and founder of
Christian Military Wives and Voice of Warriors. Patti's husband returned home from Iraq with PTSD and TBI.


What have people said/done that helps?
  • Its so helpful when someone sees a need and they meet that need without asking. Who likes to say, "I really would love it if you would tell me you will drop a meal off at our house this week so I don't have to cook." - No one likes to say that, but it would be much appreciated. Sometimes, its good just to have a break from the daily grind.


What have people said/done that hurts?
  • "He looks okay to me" - Yes, he looks okay to me too, but I get tired of hearing that.

  • I know that preaching doesn’t help in these situations! When I was going through some of the worst of it, Christian friends of mine would say “Oh, well get out of there! Get counseling! Get him on pills and leave him! He needs to be stable and he’s not! And YOU need to take care of yourself and your son! And in the mean time, just praise God.” Those comments not only insulted my intelligence, they also made my marriage out to be a joke. Do you all not understand that sometimes I wanted to leave? Do you know how many times I went back and forth in my insanity, thinking and hoping with all that I was that things would just get better? Do you know how often I tried to “praise” my way out of things? I tried your suggestions. They failed me. All of them.


What I wish people understood:
  • On Memorial and Veterans Day its normally difficult. I don't like it when people ask to go out and party it up. Those days are important for us to remember our friends who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

  • My husband cannot watch war movies and does not like talking about the war, he does not like hearing about other people's war stories. When watching movies, talking about war - it makes my husband have nightmares; sometimes for days and weeks at a time.

  • People do not realize that as a caregiver to someone with PTSD and/or TBI; I do everything for our entire household - not just myself or our children. I take care of the bills, the household chores, I try to protect my husband's emotional well being by creating a peaceful atmosphere as much as possible. It's a very difficult job, sometimes I want to just run away for a day or two. It's not wrong of you to take a break ever so often away from everything. If your husband is healthy enough to leave home for a couple of days, you can even go to a hotel to spend alone time with God to gather all of your thoughts and to be refreshed.


How people can pray for me? My spouse? My kids?
  • Pray first of all for my husband: the people that walk into his life, his emotional wounds.

  • For my kids, that they will continue to be understanding of dads PTSD/TBI... and that they will use their experiences to better not only themselves but those they come in contact with.

  • For myself: I need prayer for energy, sanity and did I mention energy, energy, energy?



___________________________________________________________




The following insights are shared by Nicole
Vandeventer, military spouse and author of the
blog, Marine Wife Unplugged. Nicole's
husband returned home from Afghanistan with
PTSD and TBI. Click here to view the full
article on Nicole's blog.







What have people said/done that helps?
  • Helpful things included calling me up just to make me laugh, taking me out of the house for lunch or coffee or just fresh air, sending me encouraging Bible verses, praying with me, praying for me, inviting me to their house, spending time with me at my house on occasion, encouraging me to keep writing despite the pain, talking on the internet, and supporting me in my commitment to my husband. Some people wanted to honor my husband regardless of how uneasy they were around him (because they knew my goal was to stay by his side) and regardless of how he was acting and thinking. When people went out of their way to try and understand him, that was a huge help, because then I didn't feel like I had to play "teacher" constantly.

  • One thing that really helped me was when my husband said "You know what? I'm still a person. Stop treating me like I'm a freak. Stop talking to me like all I am is a walking, talking, nonsensical PTSD victim. I'm still your husband. I hate that you talk about it so much. Can't you just enjoy me as I am? Am I so terrible? If so, leave." This was my wake up call. I either had to figure out how to change my own behavior in order to be a help to him, or I was not meeting my end of the marriage covenant that I agreed to. And so it went. I began to wise up, looking to God for advice instead of asking friends without knowledge of PTSD. I stopped looking for feel-good messages. Many people told me exactly what I wanted to hear, but no one had the guts, with love and with tears, to tell me that I was at the very core of my being, failing at my role as a wife. Friends were there for some moral support and the occasional morale boost, but my strength came from the Lord.

  • Anyone who encouraged me to put my husband's interests above my own and his needs above my own and encourage me to find ways to respect him helped me more than anything. Most people didn't know how to respond. The Bible was it for me, mainly. As much as it seems unrelated specifically to PTSD and TBIs, everything the Bible says about husbands and wives is still good, true, honorable, and useful for teaching, doctrine, correction, and reproof (2 Timothy 3:16-17).


What have people said/done that helps?
  • I hated hearing people tell me to leave him, and I heard it often. I even had a trusted friend tell me to get him on pills, commit him to the inpatient program at a psych institution, and get out of his life. Ouch!

  • I also hated when people got carried away with my misery and dug bigger holes. For example, if in the midst of my pain I said in conversation to someone, "My husband just did ___ and ____ and I about want to wring him a new one" it was never helpful for someone to say "Oh yeah! I couldn't stand it when he ____ and ___ and ____. I would have kicked him in the gut and walked out that instant!" Ouch. Good thing he's not your husband then!

  • It was nothing but destructive when people would tell me to just do what made me feel good at the moment, because as much as I wanted to feel good, feeling good was not going to make the problems dissolve or the medications work. When I felt good, I was more motivated to take more heat from my husband, but while he was depressed, I could not with a good conscience smile at him and pretend everything was fine or that I was unaffected by our circumstances. A lot of joy insulted him. I wanted to help my husband through his PTSD. Yes, my despair was real and deep and horrible at times, and I needed to laugh here and there, but when people cracked jokes and said things like "Well you're better than that. I'm sure you'll work it out" and "Just praise God" or "Do you want a cheeseburger," I felt even more disconnected from society. I did need to focus on the positives as the Bible tells us to in Philippians 4:6-8, but the superficial "just smile and be happy" thing wasn't working for me.

  • It hurt and made me mad when people said things like "What about God? Why isn't He healing your marriage? If God is so good, then why did He let you go through all this?" God was present, and He was my safety when I had none. I don't blame Him. I cannot name one thing God has done “wrong.” I don't think the people who asked where God was meant any harm necessarily, but I felt a lot of added pressure when I was answering skeptical questions about God from unbelievers while I was on the verge of a mental breakdown. In hindsight, I see how God was forcing me to keep my eyes on Him through that, but I felt like I was being pulled in every possible direction. The bottom line is that God WAS healing my husband and I, but He did it in His own timing and He did His work deep inside us where we couldn't see changes or even the need to make changes sometimes. We had no idea that my husband's recovery was faster than some others'. 

  • Sometimes as soon as people found out my husband had PTSD and a TBI, mid-conversation, they'd give us creeped-out looks and walk away from us, fast. I remember crying while I'd walk through stores sometimes, because incidents like these happened in public. Even at my husband's college it would happen. At churches. On the streets. In restaurants. You name it. It happened on the military base, too. God used even the most painful remarks from people to bring us closer to Him, though.


What I wish people understood:
  • PTSD doesn't mean a man or woman can't hold a job. It doesn't mean that they're incapable of continuing friendships, having in depth conversations, or being honest with people they trust. Yes, trusting and communicating effectively is a bear, but it's not impossible. I learned how to love in a deeper way by loving someone who was virtually unlovable, is what it comes down to. And then... that person transformed into my role model. There is no easy or quick fix for PTSD. Healing, as with any disorder, takes time and a lot of patience.

  • Having a marriage that's wonderful starts with serving your spouse. Not yourself. PTSD or not, marriage is about unwavering commitment and self sacrifice. PTSD isn't a death sentence: Not death of a man, not death of a soldier, not death of a spouse, or of a marriage, or even a father, son, friend, cousin, brother, etc. Relationships die when people stop working on them. Not because of feelings, circumstances, money, violence, or anything else. I wish people would understand that PTSD is a mental illness. That's all it is. It's sometimes serious and sometimes not, but the men who gave of their everything to fight for this country are fighting for their own sanity with PTSD, and we ought to help them on their terms. Not our own. Not by boozing them out, and not by getting them drugs. Help them by hearing them, loving them, finding them brothers to confide in, letting them cool down, letting them have the space and time that's needed, and accepting them as they are. We need to learn to laugh off mistakes and speak the most positive and encouraging and truthful words about their character that we can, without being artificial. Not just when we feel like it. Specifically when we don't feel like it. This goes for people for Secondary PTSD too, which I should have been diagnosed with, but wouldn't leave the house to make an appointment to know for sure. I had the symptoms.

  • I wish people understood that healing takes more time than we're often willing to give it, which means we need to exercise more patience than we often want to.


How people can pray for me? My spouse? My kids?
  • Please pray that regardless of our circumstances, we glorify God, honor one another, love and respect one another, use wisdom and proper discernment in our thoughts, words, and actions, and that our son learns from our examples in a positive way.


Any other thoughts and insights that would be helpful for those on the outside who care and want to help, but don't have a clue because they haven't walked in your shoes?
  • Remember to be loving and know that it's okay to ask questions or ask for clarification if you don't understand something.

  • Show courtesy, and be conscientious of the fact that even as tough as we may seem on the outside, we're humans just like you who have weaknesses, and bad days. Kindness goes a long way. 
Insights in caring
_________________________________________________________________________

The following information is used with permission from Loved Ones of Combat Veterans (PTSD/TBI Support) Facebook Group.
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