U.S. military families have become the unseen victims of the war in Iraq, with those left behind suffering when Soldiers go off to fight and when they finally return home.
"I don't know one military family that is still together or anything like they were before the Soldier in the family went to war," 30-year-old Mylinda, whose husband was among the first Marines to be deployed in Iraq, told AFP.
Mylinda's husband returned home from Iraq around a year ago after "we both decided then that he should leave the military because otherwise he would have had to go back," she said.
"We did pretty well when he first got back, but he never spoke about Iraq.
"I could see he was unhappy and he lost self-confidence when he left the military and couldn't find a job," she said.
Deployment News and Resources
But then came the bombshell.
"In March, he said he didn't want to be married any more," Mylinda said.
The majority of Iraq veterans who took part in a recent study acknowledged having "some family problem at least once a week," said Dr Steven Sayers of the Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Center in Philadelphia.
"About three-quarters of the veterans acknowledged having some family problem at least once a week. About half were unsure of their role or responsibility in the household," he said.
"It could be that being depressed, they are too self-critical, and that may complicate the task of being reintegrated into the family," Sayers said, adding that all the veterans sampled for the study had shown signs of depression or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
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Children are among those who suffer most, both during their parent's deployment and after they return.
A study conducted for the Pentagon earlier this year showed that child abuse rose 42 percent and neglect doubled when a parent is deployed to a combat zone.
Retrospectively, Mylinda acknowledged that she was not "in control" of her family when her husband was in Iraq.
"I remember thinking I was in control of everything, but now I look back at events and things that happened, and I think maybe I wasn't," she said.
"I let my oldest, who was seven, do a lot of things I wouldn't usually approve of him doing -- riding his bike around town by himself, going off with friends unsupervised. Now he tells me the things he did, and I think: 'But I would never let you do that.'"
Dr Wendy Lane, head of the child protection team at the University of Maryland, blamed maltreatment and neglect by the parent left at home on severe stress.
"Child neglect and abuse are often the result of stress and the absence of social support," Lane told AFP.
"Having a spouse deployed is bound to be stressful, and it also removes that social support -- having someone to help with childcare responsibilities, to talk to about life's stress so that you don't take it out on your children," she said.
Mylinda said her children were angered and hurt by their parents' separation.
"The kids had a really hard time with it. My oldest was mad about it," she said. "But I don't think they associated it with Iraq ... They pretty much blamed themselves."
Pentagon official Lieutenant Colonel Les Melnyk told AFP that it was "difficult if not impossible" to determine if a military family's divorce or separation was due to deployment.
But, added Melnyk: "Strong marriages can weather a deployment, weak ones will be tested."
Although Melnyk and Sayers pointed to a number of programs and counselling available to Soldiers and their families, Mylinda said she and her children were not offered any help.
"My husband got all kinds of different classes and courses. He was able to talk to a lot of people on the boat coming back from Iraq -- about marriage, about family. But we didn't get anything," said Mylinda.
Mylinda's mother -- herself the wife of a veteran of the 1990s' Desert Storm campaign in Iraq -- blasted the US military for failing to adequately train Soldiers for combat and life after the armed forces.
"When an army recruiter came to the school where I taught, I did everything I could to keep kids from joining. I had seen too many people go off to fight in Desert Storm and then come back, changed for the worse," she said, asking not to be named.
"When we were in the military, it was a good, strong group of men that knew what they had to do and how to do it," she said.
"Now, you have boy scouts fighting over there. They get kids out of high school, put them in boot camp and then send them to fight.
"When they get out, all they know how to do is kill someone."
from website Military.com
(The comparison by the Mylinda's mother reflects an earlier generation and perhaps an earlier time in military life. It seems to me that Vietnam war also sent kids straight out of high school (via military draft) to train them up to be sent to Iraq to kill and return home with little to nothing in the way of debriefing, re-acclimation, reintegration. Nonetheless, there is a strong ring of truth to what she shares, enough so that I wanted to call attention to it.
For our family, where I was raised a military brat, it reflects an earlier generation and time in military life - post Korean War and pre Vietnam war. See the dvd 'Brats, Our Journey Home' for an accurate and fair representation of growing up a 'military brat'. But for me, when I graduated high school, married my high school sweetheart who was drafted by lottery and sent to Vietnam, military life wasn't what I grew up with or knew. Now, with Iraq war, and 2 in our family who are returning Iraq veterans; one is leaving for second deployment to Iraq next month -- military life has changed considerably and I can only describe it as exploitation with extreme callousness of what were and are some fine military values in honor, courage, service, duty --- integrity.