When our son returned from his third deployment, we could tell that something wasn’t right. We knew that there had been subtle changes even after the first and second deployments, but we could see a significant change after his return from deployment number three. We weren’t quite sure what was going on, and he really didn’t want to talk about it.
We tried to respect his privacy and we figured that his adjustment was just going to take a bit longer this time. Prior to deployment, we had a very open and positive relationship with our son. He would often share his hopes and dreams with us, and he would often come to us for advice. Family was important to him and he made a point to include us in his life as much as possible, though we were separated by hundreds of miles and five years of military service.
He didn’t talk about his work as a Marine, but he always talked about his buddies. He would bring them home with him on long weekends and it wasn’t unusual for him to put the guys on the phone whenever we were having a conversation. Even from the early days of our son’s entry into the fleet, there were always a handful of Marines calling me “Mom”. Over the years, I’ve taken a bunch of Marines to lunch, and more than once this old lady has been invited to a barbecue with Marines and their wives or girlfriends.
My husband and I found it very difficult to interact with this “changed” son of ours. The open and positive relationship that we had always enjoyed with him had become strained, awkward, and uncomfortable. Our son became very withdrawn and angry. It seemed like the more we tried to talk to him, the more angry he became. He withdrew further and further and we felt like a stranger had inhabited his body.
As our son’s life began to unravel, he would come to us for help, but our efforts and intentions were always misunderstood and he often seemed confused and frustrated. It was as if we were speaking a foreign language and he couldn’t interpret what we were saying. It seemed like everything we did was wrong and angry outbursts would often end any sort of conversation in which we were involved.
Worry began to set in, and after several months, we felt that we just couldn’t sit by and do nothing. We were completely unsure of what to do because, after all, Momma doesn’t call the Marine Corps…..EVER! Our family was trained well, and I can honestly say that in those first five or six years of his enlistment, we never once called the Corps.
Truth be told, there was no one to call. He was never in a unit that had one of those family newsletters going out, and as parents, we were excluded from the family readiness groups available to spouses and children. For those in the military who are single, they are basically on their own.
And here lies the problem. For those serving in the military who are unmarried, they have no advocate. HIPPA laws prevent involvement in the health care process unless permission is given. Our single troops are trained to leave Mom and Dad out of things and they aren’t living with a spouse who can step in and insist that help is sought.
TBI and PTSD are invisible wounds. No one can see them and they often manifest as what appears to be a behavior problem. Rather than investigate the cause of sudden changed behavior, those with PTSD and TBI are often “disciplined” and do not receive the help they need. This only compounds the frustration and will likely lead to much bigger problems.
Without an advocate who might be able to insist that medical care is sought, those suffering with PTSD and mild TBI often go untreated. If they have sought help, it is likely that they are on multiple medications that often prohibit any type of proper diagnosis. With TBI, reasoning skills are often affected. Tack on PTSD, and a medication with side effects, and you have a recipe for disaster.
With suicide rates in the military higher than they have ever been, as parents, we can’t afford to sit back and do nothing because the system is designed to keep us out. We may not be knowledgeable about combat, but we know our children better than anyone else. We need to know what the warning signs are for PTSD and TBI, and if we see these signs emerging in our adult children, we need to get involved to make sure they receive proper care.
With multiple deployments, it’s a wonder anyone could come back from war and be unaffected. Be on the lookout for changes in your child’s behavior. If you see warning signs, don’t ignore them. Even if you feel like you are being shut out, there is plenty you can do to learn about dealing with PTSD. Your child is going to need your support more than he will ever know, so be ready. Be armed with knowledge so you can survive the “new normal” in your child’s life.
To find out more about the symptoms of PTSD, visithttp://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/what-is-ptsd.asp.
To read current news articles about combat PTSD, visit http://fellednot.com/news/ptsd/.