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, substance 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:
- Get out of the house: "I find that taking my kids to the park or taking a walk helps to divert my mind from all the tension that is burning when I sit and stew. I read a book or watch a television show or favorite movie. I also get counseling when I need it."
- Walking, walking, and more walking: "I listen to old hymns, not praise music. I rely on 'Titus 2' women, mature in their faith, whom God has provided during the worst parts of this journey."
- Think first before speaking: "This is better than saying something I will regret later. Proverbs 15:1 says, 'A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.' I drove to the church one morning. When my pastor opened the door, I was crying hysterically. I ran to the altar. I felt it was the safest place I could be. I cried for hours, sitting there with my Bible and praying. My pastor's wife spoke with me and we prayed together. She gave me guidance."
- Take a brisk walk or a bubble bath or listen to relaxing music. "I do something that is just for me. I can then regroup and assess my thoughts and possible responses to what has happened. I try to find the humor in the situation. I pray and read my Bible."
- Exercise and journaling: "Those have been the most helpful things I do to keep stress and anger under control. It's okay to relax and just do something for myself. The to-do list doesn't go anywhere if I take some time for self-nurturing."
- Call a friend or a prayer partner: "I also listen to my favorite Christian radio stations. This ministers to me."
- Deep breathing: "I try to make my shoulders drop and slow my breathing. I remind myself that God has this. I am not strong enough, but God is. I pour my heart out to him. He is the only one who truly gets this."
- I am grateful: "For so many blessings and graces given me. I try not to take them for granted. And yet, many days there remains a gnawing anger. I have felt alone in my unrest. I wrestle with surprisingly raw thoughts, but I know the truth. My best weapon is the peace of God, so I'm continually asking him for a new filling of that peace from the top of my head to the soles of my feet."
Adapted from Wounded Warrior, Wounded Home by Marshele Carter Waddell and Dr. Kelly K. Orr. Copyright 2013 by © Marshele Carter Waddell and Dr. Kelly K. Orr. Used by permission of Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.