Suicide prevention – for all.

January 18, 2010 · Filed Under Gold Star Mom, Military Parents · Comment 

A friend of mine, who blogs at Gold Star Mom Speaks Out wrote this and graciously allowed me to post it here.

When the military talks out loud about suicides in the military, it’s a good thing. This week in Washington DC 1,000 people are attending a four-day Suicide Prevention Conference sponsored by the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki were among many military leaders and medical experts in attendance. The highest level of leadership and the array of experts should indicate that the military is looking for solutions to solve this terrible trending problem of suicides in the military.

I have attended numerous meetings discussing veterans issues where one of the topics is military suicides. I have always been amazed that a military representative always acknowledges military suicides as an pressing issue but cannot figure out why. I’m no expert, but let’s try this short list. Repeated deployments, shortened dwell times, or time at home, stop loss, PTSD. I could go on, but that’s a whole other story. So, I was glad to read that Admiral Mullen told the audience at the conference “I know at this point in time, there does not appear to be any scientific correlation between the number of deployments and those who are at risk, but I’m just hard-pressed to believe that’s not the case,” Admiral Mullen said. “I know we are and hope to continue to look (at deployments) first to peel back the causes to get to the root of this.”

Deborah Mullen, Admiral Mullen’s wife, accompanies him to many events that are military family related. I met both the Admiral & Mrs Mullen at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day 2009 where I was makring the 5th anniversary of my son’s death. They were both walking through Section 60, where more than 800 members of the military who were killed in Iraq & Afghanistan are buried. They were offering condolences to family members and friends, they offered hugs or a hand in friendship, so it was no surprise that Mrs Mullen attended the Suicide Prevention Conference. SFGate reports her message to the attendees:

Don’t forget the spouses.
Deborah Mullen said Army leaders told her that they lack the ability to track suicide attempts by family members of Army personnel. “I was stunned when I was told there are too many to track,” Mullen said, speaking on stage at a military suicide prevention conference next to her husband, Adm. Mike Mullen.
She urged the military to get a better handle on the problem and implement prevention measures with spouses in mind.

“There’s another side to this and that’s family members who commit suicide,” Mrs. Mullen said. “It’s our responsibility. These are our family members.”
Military-wide, she said, it’s not clear exactly how many military family members killed themselves last year. Some military spouses, Mrs. Mullen said, are reluctant to seek mental health help because it still carries an unfortunate stigma.
“Spouses tell me all the time that they want to get mental health assistance,” she said. “As incorrect as this is, they really do believe if they seek help it will have a negative impact on their spouse’s military career.”

Mrs Mullen’s message is spot on altough I would add one more thing. Don’t forget the parents.

I’m pretty sure that most parents who get that knock on the door consider suicide as one of their options, if only briefly, during those difficult days after they receive the terrible news of the death of their child. I know of too many parents who want to crawl inside at the first view of the flag covered coffin. One more hug, one more embrace. If only they could trade their life for their child’s.

Please do not forget the Gold Star parents!

The Bonds That Tie

Over at PBS.org I have written a post about the meaningful bonds that are forged during military service… among soldiers… among wives… among parents…

Throughout the course of our lifetimes, we make and break bonds with people. Some bonds are formed in friendship: schoolmates, neighbors, fellow workers. I have close friends from each of those groups. I maintain, however, that the bonds forged in military service are perhaps the strongest of all bonds. Stronger than steel. Stronger than adversity. Stronger than time.

We all know the story of veterans sittin’ around and one says, “No shit!! There I was…” followed by a story of improbability or hilarity, typically punctuated with profanity, irreverent phrases and sordid images. It will end with much backslapping and hearty handshakes. The circle might contain members of a single unit or a single war, or it might contain an assortment of veterans from many of this nation’s conflicts. But they are bonded and tied to each other by the commonality of their service. Some are bonded by the mettle and the blood of battle. You need look no further than the Illiad or the St. Crispen’s Day speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V for evidence of the emotional connection these men share.

[snip]

Some of my closest friends today are people I didn’t know before my son deployed. We met via military blogs (including my own) and private online Internet forums established by parents of soldiers — one by a Third Infantry Division parent, another established by military moms for military moms. These were places to share information, to share worry, to celebrate good news and to commiserate when the news was bad. These were places that let us share this bond, hammered and shaped by our worry for our sons and daughters.

These relationships are equal parts ethereal and practical; as much emotional as they are physical. It involves both the spiritual and the material worlds — prayers and novena candles as well as care packages and cookie recipes. It is an inclusive sisterhood for which we did not volunteer, but in which we are now forever members.


You can read it all at PBS/POV: Conversations on Coming Home

With A Little Help From My Friends

blue star

When I first began with the Blue Star Moms, I wasn’t sure about how we were going to get things going as far as packages for the Troops or our Wounded Warriors. Things have moved so fast in a positive direction that I know that being a part of this, even beginning this Chapter, is something I was supposed to do. I know that may sound silly to some, but I am a firm believer that if you are meant to do something in life then the Universe will allow you to succeed. If you truly want to accomplish anything, feel it in your heart, it will come your way, in one manner or another, you will get what you need. By giving you receive.

Mind you, I have felt helpless many times in my life; when my son was in the Intensive Care Unit at birth, I felt this way. It was up to him to begin to breathe on his own without a respirator, which he did after a few days and now, all these years later he serves his Country with pride. Many times throughout my life I have felt that I could not deal with certain things that have come my way but always, I have been able to come up with the courage to see things through. My palms may get sweaty but I “put on my big girl undies and deal with it.” So, when more Moms began to contact me to join with me on this endeavor, I found ways to get things together, some times overnight! From standing up and speaking to a group of strangers about what a Blue Star Mom actually is, to putting together new member packets for familys, it has been a lot of work. And I have enjoyed every part of it.

However, when it came to sending care packages to our Troops, I didn’t really know how we were going to accomplish this on our own. Where to begin, who to talk to, nothing. I was as new at this as a fresh recruit getting off the bus at bootcamp! We are all new to this still, we didn’t have a lot of contacts except each other and the income/donations were not there yet. The cash donations we have received we have stood many hours in the heat, cold, wind and on hard concrete for. It is the least we can do, in my estimation, just a little discomfort is well worth the outcome. We do this thinking of our soldiers in the heat and cold, far worse conditions then we put up with.

We have been blessed with over 7,000 packets of the instant coffee from Starbucks customers to send to our Troops. We have been able to send handwritten note cards in every single package that we have been able to send to date. These come from those who visit our table when we do things like enduring heat of 103+ degrees at the Annual Chili Cookoff and local dog show. We have had bake sales to raise funds to ship the boxes that we knew that we would eventually, somehow be able to fill. I knew that we were on the right track, I could just feel it in my heart. The angels were listening to be sure!

I received an email from Operation Homefront regarding school supplies for military children to sign up on the website they gave me and was able to list our chapter to receive donations from local Dollar Tree stores. I figured we would receive a little something that we could pass along to the children, even receiving 10 of something would be better off then where we were at the time, with a whole lot of nothing except what we, the moms, were purchasing to send on our own.

Lo and behold, when we received the first call to go and pick up those items, there were at least 15 boxes between just two of the locations chock full of school supplies! We ended up with enough to assist 111 children plus, of various ages and in different locations. We were overjoyed to be able to receive such a generous contribution from the local communities.

Once I saw those coming in, I figured I should get back in the non-profit mode that I used to be in when the boys were in Cub Scouts and see if I could convince another store to do something so I went to Borders Book Store. To my surprise, the assistant manager was a “Navy brat” and they decided then and there to do a book/school supply drive for us. We ended up with over $5,000 in new books, backpacks and other items for the military children to give to them along with their school supplies. What an awesome blessing!

Once the drive for the school supplies was over, we were still wondering how we were going to be able to support our Troops. My own paycheck can only be stretched so far even when I do shop at Wally World and the “D” store. Many of our moms were out of work due to slow downs at their places of employment, like many others and we were all stressing about our children being deployed yet again. What to do, what to do?!?

Then, to my surprise, I received another notification from a local D store. Was I the right person for them to call? They had some care package items that they had collected and wanted to give them to someone and they had my name so could I stop by and pick them up? Taking my pick up truck over the next day, I picked up an entire truck bed of boxes loaded with care package items like hand sanitizer, razors, foot powder, combs, snacks of all kinds, candy and more! I wanted to cry, I was so overwhelmed at the amount of items that I actually needed assistance to pick up the rest.

We sent out 55 boxes on our first campaign, that was over 4 months ago with donations from family and friends. Last night, our third packaging to date, we packaged 150 boxes and actually ran out of boxes to fill. We had donations from not only the D store customers, but also from members of the local Veterans Administration staff, local community members and business owners. People just pop in at our meetings and drop off items for us to send. The local Rotary Club is sending 100 more packages to our Troops with names we have been able to supply to them. A local dental office has bought back Halloween candy and given it to us, over 400 pounds came in last night along with notes written by children from a local school thanking our Troops. A grandma showed up with donations and her teenage grandson, gave me the donations and left him there to help us, she said to give her a call when we were done having him work! He was quite the worker too!

The Army recruiter called me tonight, a local Pastor called him, the church has taken up a collection of items and they wanted to know who to give it to so he told them he had someone who would take it all, he made me laugh when he said he knew just who to call.

I have felt helpless, not knowing how we were going to accomplish all that I had envisioned our chapter doing to support the troops and their families, but apparently there are plans from above to show me that there are many helping hands out there. I wanted to be able to send to more then one soldier, and my wish is coming true. I know that there are many who don’t know how to help so they give, one dollar at a time, to our Troops. By doing this they don’t realize just how much they are helping each of the moms in our chapter, and all of our family members. Their outpouring of love and support is going overseas, each box as full as we can get it. You don’t have to hold a sign in support of our Troops, just go to a local Dollar Tree store and tell them you want to give to the Operation Homefront collection they are hosting.

We will sort, count, bag, and box. We will label each box, fill out the customs forms, load our vehicles and drive to the post office. We will join together, no longer helpless by ourselves, but stronger together in completing these packagings for our Troops and Wounded. With a sense of love and friendship we send those supplies over one way or another and the funds to do so will come to us, one way or another to get this done. We have enough right now to send 100 of those 150 packages to the war zone, we still need more funding to get the rest over in time for Christmas and we still have 10 large boxes that need funding to go to our Wounded in Landstuhl. That of course is my next wish! And I believe, that one way or another, it will come true.

Mamaw
Proud Mother of an American Soldier

PBS/Point of View: Regarding War

A few weeks back, PBS re-launched its Regarding War site and invited a number of bloggers to blog on experiences of reintegration of soldiers to the civilian world. I am fortunate to be one of the bloggers. In my third post (and in the fourth next week) I am addressing some misconceptions on PTSD (next week on some resources).

PTSD looks to be the diagnosis of the decade. Seems everyone has it, or wants to claim it. In the 80s the diagnosis was ADHD… In the 90s, was it narcissism? And now, PTSD: apparently you can get it soon after watching a movie, or years after some bad act. It’s all the rage in the news, and a convenient excuse for bad behavior. Even if someone has never personally experienced the trauma, it seems like they only have to hear about someone else’s trauma, and POOF — they have PTSD! Worse still are those who point to combat stress as proof that service members are the victims of some nefarious plot. If you believe the media and some politicians, every bad act by someone who happens to be a veteran is the result of some neglect or refusal to identify and treat this condition.
Read the rest of my PTSD: A Different Perspective (Part I) at PBS/Point of View/Conversations

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