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PHOTO CAPTION:  Photo by Army Spc. Michael T. Crawford

July 11, 2013
By Jayne Davis, DCoE Public Affairs

“My point is no one knows what it is really like on the other side. There are many inaccuracies and misunderstandings, but as military families, we have to face the fact that we hold some responsibility. We need to share our story, educate the community, and speak up for ourselves.”

-Michelle Joyner, National Military Family Association communications director

Joyner was speaking of mistaken assumptions made about military life by those not living it, and how the same can be true for anyone’s life if time isn’t taken to explain it. She penned this argument in the National Military Family Association’s blog, Branching Out, and suggests it’s up to military families to peel away misconceptions so healthy understanding and mutual support can foster in their communities. Her argument caught our attention as it also exposes the challenges families with service members who have psychological health concerns and traumatic brain injury (TBI) face, only compounded by their injuries. These families also need to share their stories, educate their communities and speak up for themselves. If this is you, find your voice with help from resources listed at the end of Joyner’s blog post.

Recent articles about lavish benefits and ketchup choices have sparked many conversations in our community about the lack of understanding of the military lifestyle. Many feel that our civilian friends just don’t understand what it’s like. There are feelings of frustration and anger pitted against the sacrifices made during these past 12 years of war. As a military spouse, I can identify with the emotions these conversations evoke.

However, I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know what it’s like to be the wife of a firefighter or police officer. I don’t know what it’s like to have a long haul truck driver, a pilot, a teacher, or a chef in my family. My point is no one knows what it’s really like on the other side. There are many inaccuracies and misunderstandings, but as military families, we have to face the fact that we hold some responsibility. We need to share our story, educate the community, and speak up for ourselves.

There are several resources to help. One in particular is the movie, Flat Daddy, now available on DVD. Flat Daddy follows four families who used “Flat Daddies,” life-sized cardboard cutouts of their loved ones to ease the pain of separations. Filmed over the course of a year, the film explored the impact of war on those left behind. The filmmakers’ primary goal was to raise awareness about the challenges military families face and the long-term effects war can have on families.

Other great tools include the How to Help Military and Veteran Families print series that offers valuable information to families, friends, neighbors and teachers to assist and support members of the military, their families and veterans. Also, check out our Community Toolkit with action items and useful resources for anyone who wants to stand behind military families. For a lighthearted take, read Sarah Smiley’s Dinner with the Smileys, the story of an adventurous mission Sarah embarked on with her sons to fill the empty chair at the dinner table during her husband’s deployment. Each week the Smileys invited a guest for dinner and learned important lessons about families and the community.

What I’ve learned in the last several years is that I need my family and friends. They understand what my life is like, but that’s only because they’ve had the chance to learn. We have to be brave enough to share and educate.

The following entities recognize the challenges and facilitate understanding for military families coping with psychological health concerns or traumatic brain injury. Learning from their resources may help you gather the courage to help others understand your situation.

¦Real Warriors Campaign website hosts video profiles of service members with psychological concerns, and video stories on “Real Warriors and Families” and other topics; message boards to facilitate peer communication; and downloadable materials to help families counter the stigma associated with seeking psychological health care.
¦  Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury has a broad range of targeted resources.
¦  TBI educational materials are available at Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, including fact sheets, booklets and posters.
¦  National Center for Telehealth and Technology designed afterdeployment.org, a website dedicated to wellness resources for the military community that includes self-assessments, Peer-2-Peer Forum, videos and many other resources.
¦  Military Kids Connect has resources for children as well as parents.