We often report on the issues and hardships facing our nation’s veterans. But what many don’t realize is the impact these returning veterans have on families and their children. Life goes on after and life beyond the touching homecoming video clip or news report and it is not always a “happily-ever-after” scenario.
It’s estimated that as many as 5 million kids have had a parent or sibling serve inIraqorAfghanistansince 9/11. Approximately 30%, or 1.5 million, of those kids are significantly more likely to consider suicide and have mental health problems compared to non-military kids.
A recent 60 Minutes report told the story of 15 year old Abigail Barton, who expected her father, an Iraq War veteran, to return home and still be the “fun parent” that he was before he left. That was not the case.
Abigail’s older brother, Alex, attempted to commit after his dad returned home. Their mother said it has been “devastating” for her kids to see the changes in their father as he deals with the post-traumatic stress ofIraq. It is as if they, too, are dealing with PTSD.
And sadly, the Barton kids receive no help from their school or the VA.
The VA spent almost $500 million last year for PTSD treatments for veterans of Iraqand Afghanistan. But their family members may receive counseling “if determined to be essential to the effective treatment and readjustment of the veteran.”
Simply put, veterans’ kids who have mental health issues are largely on their own, if they get help at all. Compounding the problem is a lack of awareness on this issue.
Christal Presley, who has started a group called United Children of Veterans, had a similar experience with her father, Delmer Presley, a Vietnam veteran. “While my dad was hiding away in his room, I would lock myself away in my room,” Christal said in the 60 Minutes report. “I would vacillate between depression and rage just like my father.”
Then, at the age of 30, Christal began picking up the phone to get her father to talk about the war. After dozens of phone calls, slowly, her father began opening up. And talking helped both Christal and her father.
After a lifetime of silence, Christal dared to go public and shared her story in a blog that went viral and eventually became a book. She’s received emails from thousands of veterans and the children of veterans as far back as WW II. “I think part of me still feels the relief of, ‘Christal, you’re not alone,’” she told 60 Minutes. “And the other part of me feels so sad, because I wasn’t alone.”
Christal says that now she understands that talking and sharing your story can be a matter of life and death.
The stories of veterans’ lives upended by PTSD are all too familiar, however, we should not forget about their children whose stories are unknown – and children who are on their own in dealing with their mental health issues.
You can learn more about Christal Presley’s United Children of Veterans at her website, http://unitedchildrenofveterans.com/.
Watch the 60 Minutes report here: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/collateral-damage-the-mental-health-issues-facing-children-of-veterans/