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War’s Silent Stress: The Family at Home

depressionWar’s Silent Stress: The Family at Home originally appeared on the Opinion page of the Virginian Pilot on August 9, 2009.

MUCH LIKE the news of servicemen killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan, last month’s news of the death of a military spouse at Ft. Bragg made only local headlines.

A 40-year-old Army wife, who was four months pregnant, was found dead of what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The woman had called 911 with threats of hurting herself, but the police arrived too late. Her husband is an Army sergeant who worked in Civil Affairs and had been deployed multiple times.

When the news broke, there was a short burst of e-mail traffic among the leadership of Blue Star Families, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group of military spouses working to promote awareness of the myriad issues facing today’s military families.

“I don’t know why I find this so surprising but the story says she was 40,” wrote the wife of a Special Forces NCO. “I guess I assumed that someone in that state of despair would be younger — like maybe she’d have better coping skills at 40.”

The majority of the Blue Star Families members are veterans of three, four and five deployments, and at least one member has endured eight deployments in the past seven years. Often these deployments last well beyond a year, as anniversaries, holidays, births and birthdays tick by, never to be celebrated together.

My husband, a recently retired Marine Corps officer, deployed only once in the five years we have been married. A difficult seven months, but it was, after all, only one deployment.

Post-conflict disorder and depression are being addressed by our military for the service members who return from Iraq and Afghanistan. But the effects of these deployments on spouses and families are just beginning to get some attention. While statistics on depression and mental illness among military spouses are not available, some Blue Star members are openly surprised that suicide among the spouses of deployed troops is not more prevalent. In fact, the stereotypical overwhelmed military spouse is 19 to 22 years old, the wife of a junior enlisted service member, whose ranks make up almost 44 percent of our active duty military. Many of these spouses have very young children, are far removed from extended family, are on a limited and usually single income — approximately $1,500 per month for a family of four — and few have the coping skills that come with age and experience. But mental health experts remind us that depression knows no boundaries — not age, income level or military rank.

Sadly, last month’s tragedy was not an isolated incident, though news stories about suicides can be hard to find because many media outlets honor an old journalism standard of not reporting suicides. On Nov. 28, 2006, police in Fayetteville, N.C., discovered a 39-year-old mother and her two children dead inside the family car. The mother had killed herself and her two young children with carbon monoxide poisoning. Although no one knows what went through her mind when she climbed inside the vehicle and strapped her two children into their car seats, the military wife had a history of postpartum depression. Nonetheless, she was described as a positive and upbeat woman who mostly kept to herself. Her husband, a lieutenant colonel in the Army, had been deployed to Iraq just two months before, just after the birth of the couple’s daughter.

A few members of Blue Star Families’ leadership have admitted to being treated for depression. One member said that the combination of her husband’s three recent heavy-combat tours to the dangerous Helmand Province of Afghanistan and the stress of taking care of two young children led her to deep despair, thoughts of suicide and hopelessness and, eventually, to a depression diagnosis and a prescription for Wellbutrin.

She described how military spouses get addicted to news reports during deployments, despite knowing the information will make them miserable. The Internet allows the family to catch every bit of reporting on the area where their soldier, Marine, airman or sailor is deployed. This has the effect of almost putting the spouse into combat with them. “There is nothing as intense as doing a Google search to find out if the love of your life, the father of your children, is dead or alive,” she said. While the family member can be literally paralyzed with worry, she also must raise kids, work, pay bills and deal with the sometimes infuriating and insensitive comments of civilians around her.

Officers and senior NCO’s are trained to detect Combat Stress Disorder in their men and women serving in combat. Often a precursor to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a crippling mental state, the men or women who show signs of combat stress are given rest, a good hot meal, a DVD or book and a strong verbal reminder that they are going back into the fight after their short break. Unlike the military, their spouses are not trained to detect symptoms of depression, burn-out or what another generation called “combat fatigue” — in themselves or each other.

Thankfully, much already is being done to help military families. There is a push for more mental health counselors on bases. Teams of Military Family Life Consultants funded by the Department of Defense are available to all services. They provide counseling to service members and their families, and there is no chain of command notification and no paperwork. Nonetheless, many spouses — even in the Blue Star leadership — have never heard of these services.

In addition, studies are beginning to surface about Secondary PTSD — a mental health issue that has been lurking around in this country since at least the Vietnam War. Secondary PTSD has shown up when the spouse and/or family respond to their changed environment with anger, substance abuse or violence, replacing a peaceful and loving home life. Repeatedly, Blue Star Families have found with so many of the good programs out there, the challenge is letting families know what is available.

Now more than ever, communication is key. As media reports query the long range effects of multiple deployments on children, and with the increased awareness for detecting and treating PTSD in our military, it is time to close the loop on mental health and our military families and begin talking about the potentially harmful effects of repeated longterm deployments on the spouses of our service members.

Civilian or military, the first step to help for depression is talking about it.

Rosemary Freitas Williams is a director of communications for Alexandria-based Blue Star Families, whose members on 70 military bases work to educate those who make decisions about military life and its unique challenges.


Negativity in the Work Place

Business womanBy Deb Kloeppel, CEO, MSCCN

As a nonprofit CEO and keynote speaker, I travel nationwide to military installations performing workshops and seminars on topics that include creative career solutions and career management. As impressive as those subjects are, I’m always surprised to discover what military spouses truly WANT to talk about, especially those who are currently employed or were previously employed.

Several spouses have asked me about how to deal with bullies in the workplace, how to maintain professional etiquette, how to resolve conflicts on a team or in an office, how to cope with difficult clients and aggressive coworkers, and how to avoid office politics.

Do you notice a resounding theme here? Military spouses want to know how to resolve, mediate, handle, and control conflict and difficulty.  Employers seek this type of worker to lead projects and teams…believe me.

Why is the ability to resolve conflict so important in the workplace? Professional bullies and passive-aggressive coworkers or team members become liabilities and de-motivators, demeaning the value of the heart-and-soul dedication most workers value and display. Whether the product involves a financial audit or a widget that’s sold on HSN – a bully in YOUR work environment zaps ALL of the joy and enthusiasm you’ve earned when your task is completed.

The residual effects and lasting feeling of day-to-day dread when forced to deal with a slacker, bully, passive-aggressive coworker, or a difficult boss can lead to health problems, depression, and lack of joy.

Notice, I placed slackers in the same category as bullies. A slacker can cause irreparable damage to an employer’s bottom line. Overt bullies and covert slackers are both negative influences.

As an employer, I’d rather reign in an over-enthusiastic staff member than have to “motivate” a slacker every day of the week.

Slackers, in my opinion, are the WORSE type of bully in the workplace. Slackers are normally the “nicest” person on the team and yet possess the ability to slow the workflow down to a halt. How are they able to do this?

Studies have shown that slackers are often master manipulators who utilize a passive–aggressive approach on a team. They’re sugar-sweet to the boss and at the same time malign their boss to coworkers to throw off the workflow of the team. It is a classic case of misery loves company.

In short, slackers create personal drama on a team and within a project rather than face the fact they’re in over their heads professionally.

There are sure fire ways to deal with slackers, or bullies, or passive-aggressive coworkers, or difficult bosses. In the coming weeks I’ll provide proven tips and methods to keep you motivated and educated enough to weed this type of negative energy from your work environment so that you’re able to continue your peak performance at work and at home.

For now, here’s step one to rid yourself of negative energy created by people and coworkers in your life. Understand what passive–aggressive behavior is and how it effects YOU personally.

Determine what you can and cannot tolerate from passive–aggressive people, especially if this type of person has any type of influence over your work and home life.

Passive–aggressive behavior:

Passive-aggressive behavior is passive, sometimes obstructionist resistance to following through with expectations in interpersonal or occupational situations. It can manifest itself as learned helplessness, procrastination, stubbornness, resentment, sullenness, or deliberate/repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is (often explicitly) responsible. It is a defense mechanism, and (more often than not) only partly conscious. For example a worker when asked to organize a meeting might seemingly happily agree to do so, but will then take so long on each task in the process – offering excuses such as calls not being returned, or that the computer is too slow, or that things aren’t ready when the meeting is due to start – that a colleague is forced to hurriedly complete the task, lest the meeting be postponed.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Some common symptoms of passive-aggressive personality disorder include:

  • Acting sullen
  • Avoiding responsibility by claiming forgetfulness
  • Being inefficient on purpose
  • Blaming others
  • Complaining
  • Feeling resentment
  • Having a fear of authority
  • Having unexpressed anger or hostility
  • Procrastinating
  • Resisting other people’s suggestions

A person with this disorder may appear to comply with another’s wishes and may even demonstrate enthusiasm for those wishes. However, they:

  • Perform the requested action too late to be helpful
  • Perform it in a way that is useless
  • Sabotage the action to show anger that they cannot express in words


As an employer, I’ve learned the hard way that NOTHING changes this type of behavior from a legal standpoint. Termination of the staff member’s contract is my only recourse. My first duty is to protect the rest of my team from this type of negativity.

What’s insidious about passive–aggressive bullying is the fact that workers who utilize this type of behavior are ALWAYS nice and sugar sweet to their coworkers. Departure of the “nice” person upsets the rest of the team at first. However, team members notice within a week or two that productivity levels shoot WAY up again and harmony is restored to the team once again.  That’s the hidden liability I talk about…..you truly never KNOW the amount of damage  passive–aggressive people can do within your work environment UNTIL they’re gone and/or removed from you personally and professionally.

Three Sure-Fire Ways to Detect a Passive–Aggressive Worker

Look for the 3 “Ps”

  1. Pout
  2. Procrastinate
  3. Practice Purposeful Inefficiency

Worker Passive-Aggression:

Attacks on the boss or other coworkers are not open, but hidden, and usually only noticed after some time of its happening. This delayed quality makes this kind of aggression difficult to spot, and more difficult to prevent. The passive aggressive person is a master at covert abuse, which can take the form of:

  • Inability to complete work on-time or to quality goals;
  • Sloppy customer care, by applying irony, hostility or contempt;
  • Hoarding necessary information; isolating other co-workers;
  • Negative framing; gossiping; excessive complaining; verbal abuse;
  • Lack of accountability; sabotaging other people’s tasks; absenteeism

“Passive Aggressive in Workplace” by Knol Company

I am not alone in my belief to fire workers on the basis of their passive–aggressive manipulation of other team members. Bottom line for me – when a problem exists on any work team that prevents a mission or product to move forward due to the behavior of a staff member who’s negatively affecting other staff members….rid the team of the problem immediately.

How can coworkers deal with a bully of any type?

  1. Document, document, document! Write EVERY abuse down daily
  2. Learn what you’re company’s Conflict Resolution Policy is and utilize it fully
  3. If your company does not have a Conflict Resolution Policy – ask for alone time with your boss to discuss your written report.

If your bully is your boss and there isn’t anyone higher on the food chain in your professional life, find another job – truly. As difficult as it is for me to recommend, you have only two choices when dealing with a bully at the top: go to court or find another job. To protect your mental and physical health, look for another job.

If you discover that you are the one displaying negative behaviors in your workplace, ask for professional help. Your problem may not be true passive-aggression, but too much stress or a poor job-fit. DO NOT be a liability to others. You might find that changing jobs is better for you and the ones you leave behind.

I’ve quit a job due to a top dog bully – and I have to admit that I felt empowered leaving that job for my sanity’s sake.  Court cases are arduous, financially draining, and energy zapping. Leaving that bully boss helped me create my parameters of what I will and will not tolerate in the workplace and why I’ll never “work” for anyone else again. I do quite well on my own terms.

MSCCN is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the employment, job placement  and vocational training needs of military spouses. To learn more about MSCCN please visit their website at http://www.msccn.org.

Should You Dummy-Down Your Resume?

MSCCN LargeShould You Dummy-Down Your Resume?

By Deb Kloeppel, President and CEO,

Military Spouse Corporate Career Network

As a career management professional, I am often asked the question, “Should I dummy-down my resume when looking for a job during this difficult economic time?” Depending on the reason why you’re in a desperate job search, my answer might surprise you.

Are you willing to become under-employed for the sake of paying your bills and keeping food on the table is the better question.

Two years ago my guidance to applicants – especially military-affiliated candidates, would have been a resounding no when down playing your skills sets to get a job – ANY job to pay the bills.

However, desperate economic times often spawn amazing opportunities for you to find “creative” ways to earn income. Under-employment might be the exact solution to your financial situation. But there’s another important reason to obtain a job beneath your skill sets, should you find yourself desperate for income when RIF’d, terminated, phased out, locked out, or laid off indefinitely.

Employers have a tendency to hire applicants who are currently working or possess zero job gaps in their employment history. Possessing a work history that reflects times of under-employment during an otherwise impressive career life illustrates your ability to adapt to enormous change and transition during economic downturns.

Nothing excites an employer more than hiring a dedicated applicant who stepped up to the plate during a tough time, to do what was necessary to remain debt free and clear of IRS woes – even if your job history screams under-employment because of your impressive skill sets.

As an employer, I handle the financial life of five MSCCN Team members within my organization. I realize that doesn’t sound like a great deal of responsibility, but I assure you, as President and CEO, all the decisions I make daily affects each staff’s income level and quality of life – every decision. I’m determined not to lay off or terminate the services of my staff.

We decided as a Team to cut hours and pay – and not services through our military outreach – in order to stay together during this tumultuous economic tide. Why? We’d rather be under-employed (under-paid and over-worked) than lose our Team and program for the sake of an extra buck. There’s something wonderful about working together as an under-employed Team, knowing that we’ll be together when times do get better. You can’t pay enough for that type of loyalty and employers WILL seek that type of loyalty when they hire again – and they will hire again.

To find out more about the Military Spouse Corporate Career Network, please go to www.msccn.org

Beyond Tribute Launches!

Many moons ago I thought my first BSF post would be about my hysterically funny misadventure at the Fredricksburg, VA pre-election Obama/Biden Rally. But that post will have to be patient. It’s been waiting a few months, so what’s a little longer?

Yesterday I had the distinct honor of being in attendance at the launch of Beyond Tribute. As I walked into the room, I was happy to see a familiar face, Sue Hoppin, immediate Past President of the Bolling OWC. Score! I had someone to sit with, which was important since Stephanie’s car was rear-ended on I-95 and she was unable to meet me at the event as planned. (Stephanie is okay! Thankfully no one was seriously injured!)

One thing you must know about me, is I am no fan of formality. I understand it and respect it, but if faced with the knowledge of a receiving line, I will hide in the ladies room until it is over. My avoidant behavior didn’t begin with my husband’s military career, it began at weddings. I just never know quite what to say in that 5 second spurt of handshaking. So as I looked around at the folks in the room, I contemplated whether I needed to go hide out for a bit, but decided to risk remaining seated. Turned out to be the right decision.

Thankfully there wasn’t a receiving line, but that isn’t to say I did not experience a 5 second handshake which I found to be thoroughly engaging.
As I was awaiting the start of the program, a blond woman sat down in the row in front of me. She immediately turned around, stuck out her hand and smiled at me as she enthusiastically said, “Hi! I’m Jill Biden!” Yes, that Jill Biden, AKA Dr. Biden. And because I didn’t feel the pressure to perform in a receiving line, I was actually able to tell her my name and organization with comfort and ease. We didn’t have time for me to gush and act the fool much else, because the program was seconds away from beginning and the once empty chair to her left, directly in front of me, now was chock full of, none other than,General Wesley Clark.  Yes, that Wesley Clark.   Lucky me, being all of Not Even 5 Feet, Gen Clark isn’t freakishly tall and  didn’t block my view.  Although I do wonder what would have happened had I tapped him on the shoulder and asked him to “scrunch down.”  Instead I found my self somewhat fixated on the back of his head. It’s nicely shaped, his haircut was very even, although I momentarily wondered if he uses hairspray or gel to keep his coif. (BTW,Congratulations, you are now just as distracted as me from the purpose of this post)

The launch of “Beyond Tribute”. What a fabulous concept  that American’s can still shop the Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day sales and at the same time be supporting Veteran’s Service organizations.  I think Bob Balaban put it just the right way when he said, “This isn’t just a call to action, it’s a call to conscience.”  And yeah, it’s a wonderful way to remind retailers and the public that the best way to capitalize on these holidays is to pay back the veterans for everything they have done for our country.

So in the words of Pamela Eggleston, go “hit the sales, shop at the stores” which have taken the pledge, take the pledge yourself and have safe holiday weekend.   Particularly as we go into the 101 Critical Days.

Women Veterans Health Improvement Act of 2009

healthcare-symbolSenator Patty Murray, (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, has introduced bi-partisan legislation to prepare the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for the influx of women veterans who will access care there in the coming years.

According to her office’s press release the bill, named the Women Veterans Health Improvement Act of 2009, will, “address unique needs of women veterans, provide improved care for Military Sexual Trauma, and explore the effects service in Iraq and Afghanistan has had on female veterans.”

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) is the lead co-sponsor of the legislation.

“Women have stepped up to serve at unprecedented levels,” said Senator Murray. “Which means the VA is now faced with unprecedented challenges in caring for them as they return home. This bill addresses the unique challenges women face by providing specialized care for the visible and invisible wounds of war. As more women begin to transition home, and step back into lives as mothers, wives, and citizens, the VA must be there for them.”

Dave Gorman, Executive Director of Disable American Veterans (DAV) said, “While significant progress has been made in recent years to remove institutional barriers that often discourage women veterans from seeking assistance at VA facilities, more needs to be done.”

Co-sponsors of the bill include Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Susan Collins (R-ME), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Lisa Murkowski (D-AK), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

Among other things, the legislation will:

· Require the VA to implement a program to train, educate, and certify VA mental health professionals to care for women with sexual trauma

· Require the VA Secretary to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the barriers women are facing in accessing care at the VA.

· Authorize a report to Congress on the effects the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have had on the physical, mental, and reproductive health of women who have served there.

· Require the VA to begin a pilot program that provides child care to women veterans that seek mental health care services at the VA.

· Require the VA to begin a pilot program that provides readjustment counseling to women veterans in group retreat settings.

For Detailed Information on the Women Veterans Health Improvement Act of 2009 visit: http://murray.senate.gov/veterans/women-vets-2009.pdf