Category Archives: Underappreciated

The Reality Military Shows Will Never Air

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Janine Boldrin, Contributor

Creative Director, Chameleon Kids

Army Wives: Alaska. Coming Home. Stars Earn Stripes. There’s a lot of interest in the reality of military life. But even with all of these shows, I’m left wondering about what story they are telling because, for the past decade, most of the military families I know have been living a reality that I don’t see on primetime.

Episode one of any show I’ve watched doesn’t feature deployment number five which is a coming attraction over in my friends’ living room next month. Where’s the show called “Leaving Home,” documenting the crying on the front end of a year apart? Note the crying kids in unmatched shirts in the background. Oh, and those beautiful homecomings. Those big, flag draped hangars filled with soldiers. I wish every real life reunion installment ended that way. Maybe I could write an episode for a new series. I’ll pull from one day last week:

Military spouse friends gather with their kids to play on a day off from school. That morning, news flickered across their Facebook newsfeeds that a friend had been killed in Afghanistan leaving behind a wife and young children. Camera pans to their tight circle of chairs, hushed voices, and finally to the women whose talk is interrupted by a text message. It’s from another military spouse. She has received news that her husband who is deployed survived an attack. She was in the middle of Kindergarten orientation when the call came. The guy next to her husband was blown up. His legs may be gone. One mom pulls a granola bar out of her purse. Their discussion turns to the upcoming nine month deployment their husbands leave for on Monday. Most sit up straighter and say everything will be fine. Camera pans away. They leave the falling apart for the middle of the night when they find themselves alone in bed with their own thoughts hoping the kids don’t wake up with fevers.

Beloved. Supported. Championed. The military family has become the darling of reality television along with a sanitized version of our service members’ lives. The love we’re supposed to feel from the networks quantified by the interest in showing our existence. But not by showing our reality.

Because if the entire truth was shown, instead of just pictures of daddy kissing baby for the first time, you’d get to see the young man who is failing in school because he couldn’t come to grips with a father who is struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Or the wife who is struggling with depression and is considering suicide. Veterans without homes. Soldiers who return to broken families. And the spouses, girlfriends, and parents who work to keep a semi-normal life in a very unpredictable existence.

Military families are resilient. We are proud and strong. We don’t like to let the cracks show. Maybe that’s why many military families appreciate being remembered with the shows that make the eight o’clock slot instead of showcasing the drama we have become so used to in our own world; shouldering the burden is kind of our thing.

So I’ll speak for myself when I say that, while the networks sell our daily lives, I hope the public will not be duped by celebrities jumping out of a helicopter with no real bullets coming or wives in high heels cheering on their husbands’ training. We don’t air our struggles and ask for pity regarding our troubles but the public should be exposed to the true, unglamorous sacrifices our service members and their families’ make. Not the staged glory.

Viewers may be drawn to visions of grand homecomings, breathtaking training, or wives in cute dresses and big smiles, but Americans also need to know the gritty reality our military service members and families face. And start tuning into a forgotten program:
The war in Afghanistan.

Even if you hear it may be cancelled, I understand there are a few spin-offs being planned starring our service members and their families for many years to come. I hope you’ll check this old favorite out because, unlike the reality shows that are on now, as fewer viewers click into the show, the longer the program will be on the air.

This is our reality:

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Kristina Kaufmann, Contributor

Collateral Damage

12/02/2015 03:52 pm ET Updated Dec 02, 2016

The American public hears stories about the devastating impact that mental wounds of war can have on a combat veteran, and how far too often, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is failing them.

We now have an entire generation of military families who know nothing but war. An estimated 30-35% of the 2.7 million troops who have deployed since 9/11 are struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and/or substance abuse. These are conditions known to affect entire families, and can derail the mental health and development of the over two million children who have had a parent deployed over the past 14 years.

A growing body of evidence indicates that some children of military families — especially those living in PTS/TBI households — have been negatively affected by their parent’s deployments. Research conducted by the University of Southern California found that military connected adolescents have a higher rate of suicidal thoughts than their civilian counterparts, and other studies indicate that military spouses — particularly those serving as caregivers to support their wounded veterans — are more at risk to suffer mental health problems.

To make matters worse, in most cases spouses and children of the over 60% of post 9/11 troops who have left active duty, are not eligible for healthcare from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). No one federal agency is held accountable, and there is no coordinated system to respond to the needs of these families. In fact, for the most part they are invisible to the systems that could be providing them services. While the Department of Defense (DOD) has been directed by Congress to start tracking suicides among active duty family members, the VA has no such mandate to track family members once they leave active duty.

We, as a nation, are failing these families, many of whom feel abandoned by the country their loved ones fought to protect. Helping these families isn’t just a moral imperative, it’s a public health concern. RAND estimates that the lost productivity among post 9/11 caregivers (mostly young wives) will confer a societal cost of almost 6 billion dollars. And the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress reports that poverty, addiction and mental illness are just some of the conditions that have their roots in untreated childhood traumatic stress.

What can be done?

Children and Family Futures, a California based advocacy organization, recommends the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) expand their research program to better assess the behavioral health needs of veteran children. Currently, the bulk of research focuses on active duty families, who have far better access to care. In addition, mental health conditions related to wartime service sometimes take years to manifest, which means hundreds of thousands of veteran family members are at risk of falling through the cracks.

Second, an estimated 350,000 veteran families lack health insurance. This requires a targeted outreach campaign — at both the federal and local levels — to educate and enroll these families in health coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Third, the VA must do more to identify and help these families. Currently, there are no screening or assessment protocols used to determine the service needs of veteran caregivers or children. The VA is struggling to keep up with the growing demand in mental health services for veterans, and does not have the capacity (or congressional authority) to provide behavioral health support for family members. But, they can certainly do a far better job of ensuring warm hand-offs to community based mental health agencies.

The fact is, the majority of veteran families in need of behavioral health care will be seen by community based organizations. These agencies will require the funding, cultural competency and education in evidence based practices to expand their capacity and effectively serve veteran families in crisis. The VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program, which grants $300 million dollars a year to community based organizations, has been widely credited for helping to drastically reduce veteran homelessness. This same model can be used to support community based behavioral health care for veterans and their families.

The Yellow Ribbon Program’s have faded and the welcome home parades are a distant memory. But there’s a price to pay for outsourcing our national defense to less than one percent of the population over 14 years of war. This isn’t a military problem. It belongs to all of us.

Alex’s mom, Jami, and her remaining son are now getting the counseling they need through a local veterans center. As painful as it is for her to speak openly about her tragic losses, she is committed to raising awareness. It’s too late for Alex, but we can still save hundreds of thousands of families damaged by war, and give them a chance to become whole again.

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Truck drivers and more unsung heroes of the coronavirus pandemic

As media outlets around the world race to cover vital angles of the coronavirus crisis, much attention has been paid to health care workers — and rightfully so. But in most of that coverage, the work of other essential workers — such as sanitation personnel, grocery store clerks and truck drivers — has largely gone unrecognized.

Crissy Becker

© Provided by CBS News Crissy Becker, an American truck driver on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis.

And as Crissy Becker, a truck driver for Maine’s Blevin Logistics, tells CBS News, that’s a travesty.

“I’m a mom,” she writes. “Instead of going home, I stayed out driving my truck sometimes 24 hours at a time, lately six weeks. So y’all got what you need. And there are hundreds of thousands more like me but instead of going home are running until we can’t see straight in our tracks.”

Despite all her long hours and hard work, Becker said she feels disrespected as workers from other industries get the lion’s share of recognition on news broadcasts for their contribution to the coronavirus fight.

“We are one of the only things keeping [the] economy as alive as it is,” she writes. “I’m not normally one to complain. I love my job. But we constantly were with disrespect when nothing’s going on and now that we are driving sometimes three days at a time with few hours [of] sleep. Just thought I would put a picture to show you the face of one of many giving up their entire life and staying out here putting ourselves at risk of the COVID-19. So y’all can have what you need. My hat goes off to the rest of us.”

On March 14, a trucker from Little Rock, Arkansas, named Shannon Newton, echoed that sentiment, tweeting: “If you see a truck driver this week, please thank them. They are putting in long hours, under stressful circumstances, to ensure life’s essentials get restocked. Truck drivers are often taken for granted. But in times like these, we are reminded of their hero status.”

On March 16, Jessica Hernandez, whose father-in-law is a truck driver tweeted, “These past weeks he has seen a high request for more hauls. They are the ones restocking stores with toilet paper, bottled waters, etc. He is also immunocompromised as many truck drivers are. They put their lives at risk for the sake of us.”

“My grandpa has been a proud truck driver for over 40 years. The truth is truck drivers, like my grandpa, are the reason we continue to have access to basic necessities despite the worsening #COVID-19 pandemic,” Twitter user @LashNolen chimed in. “Their decision to drive maintains our livelihood. #hiddenheroes.”

Now, as dining rooms around the nation close in an effort to flatten the curve of coronavirus, there’s a movement on social media asking other drivers to step in and make sure that truckers are able to get food when they’re on the road.

“If you happen to be sitting in your car eating because the dining room is closed, & see a truck driver attempt to pull on a door, please ask if you can buy them a meal,” the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department tweeted on Wednesday. “Most places do not allow walk ups, and their rigs usually don’t fit. We owe them that much!”

Earlier this week, a viral tweet from a man named Aaron Meier opened Americans’ eyes to yet another type of essential worker often overlooked amid the coronavirus crisis — garbage collectors.

“I can’t work from home and my job is an essential city service that must get done,” the garbageman from San Francisco tweeted. “It’s a tough job, from getting up pre-dawn to the physical toll it takes on my body to the monotonous nature of the job, at times it’s hard to keep on going. Right now though, right now I am feeling an extra sense of pride and purpose as I do my work. I see the people, my people, of my city, peeking out their windows at me. They’re scared, we’re scared. Scared but resilient. Us garbagemen are gonna keep collecting the garbage… It’s gonna be OK, we’re gonna make it be OK.”

That tweet has now been liked more than 450,000 times and the thousands of responses it elicited have opened the door for people to shout out still more underappreciated essential workers.

“I feel you! I’m a city bus driver,” replied Twitter user @coastaln8v73, a public transportation worker from the pacific northwest. “People are still depending on us to get them where they need to go. We will do what we gotta do. Stay safe, man.”

“I’m a mailman. Feeling much the same as you,” wrote Kevin Lindamer. “Keep up the good work and may you and yours stay healthy and safe.”

“I work in a grocery store pharmacy, can’t do it from home either,” another response reads. “We are trying our best, the other day I went 9 hours without sitting down or taking a break.”

It’s an important reminder to acknowledge the people who keep our world running smoothly, even in the face of unprecedented circumstances. And much like truck drivers, grocery store workers play a crucial role in keeping the shelves stocked.

In recognition of that, states like Minnesota and Vermont have now moved to classify grocery store clerks and stockers as emergency workers. Doing so will ensure they have access to much-needed childcare as they work to serve and feed the rest of us.

These are the people keeping our streets clean and our stores shelves stocked — an outward sign that the American supply chain is still intact, and key players in keeping an already-stressed population calm. They are putting in long hours away from their families and risking exposure to coronavirus — all because, heralded or not, they are very much essential.