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Wounded Warrior, Wounded Home

Hundreds of thousands of military veterans and their families struggle with PTSD and TBI. Here are some ways to cope on the home front.

There are millions of us whose lives are connected to a combat veteran. To date, 1.5 million troops have fulfilled 3 million deployment billets to Iraq and Afghanistan. Most service members have served at least two and some as many as nine combat tours of duty. Between 30 and 40 percent of returning veterans today show symptoms of PTSD or report conditions of TBI. TRICARE, the military health care provider, reports that troops and their family members make and keep 100 thousand appointments for mental health care daily.

Since 2000, traumatic brain injury has been diagnosed in about 180,000 service members, the Pentagon says. But some advocates for patients say thousands more have suffered undiagnosed brain injuries. A RAND study in 2008 estimated the total number of service members with TBI to be about 320,000.

Each service member's war experiences and injuries directly impact at least three and as many as ten immediate family members and friends. This means that at least 4.5 million and as many as 15 million close family members and friends are deeply impacted by combat stress, PTSD, and/or TBI from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone.

When a veteran suffers from post-traumatic stress and/or traumatic brain injury, every member of his or her immediate family experiences the effects and, in many cases suffers what is known as secondary acute stress. This secondary traumatic stress resembles the universal and potentially complicated process of grief. Spouses, parents, and children of warriors pass through phases of shock and confusion, hurt, anger, guilt, fatigue, fear, and finally, acceptance.

Even with faith, courage, and the discernment to apply God's promises to a very dark situation, the results of war can be emotionally scarred homes, major depression, addictive behavior, sub- stance abuse, divorce, or suicide. However, with accurate biblical guidance, targeted prayer, professional, Christ-honoring counseling and resources, informed community and church support, these same individuals and families can find hope, healing, and wholeness.

Responding with grace

A warrior's hurtful words and actions are not excused, but refusing to take your warrior's anger personally is a key step. Part of becoming resilient on the home front is learning to adapt in order to protect ourselves emotionally and physically. A safety buffer begins with a better understanding of the warrior's anger as well as our own. I talked with several military wives and family members about coping with anger on the home front. Here are some of the top things they told me they do to respond with grace:

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