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Silently Serving: The Life of Military Families

Legend tells when the three hundred Spartan warriors were chosen to march North and protect Greece from the hordes of the army of Xeres at the gates of Thermopylae, they were not selected for their fighting prowess. Rather, they were selected for the fortitude possessed by their wives. Knowing these men would not return, the King chose warriors whose wives would be who Sparta turned to for strength, who would continue to silently serve.       

What words come to mind when you hear military family? Duty, honor, support, sacrifice, unrecognized? All families experience challenges of balancing work and home responsibilities, and military families are no exception. What sets the military family apart is the unwritten oath they also take when their servicemember swears to defend the United States against all enemies, both foreign and domestic. With this oath, the Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine, also pledges the lives of their family to the defense of the nation. Partners, children, parents, and siblings alike have the realities of what it takes to defend a nation thrust upon them. They watch their loved ones give everything they have to something more than a job; being a member of the Armed Forces of the United States of America is a life. It demands 24/7 commitment, 365 days a year. Military families live with the truth that at any moment they must be prepared to watch their loved one march off to war and step out the door for possibly the last time. 

Elements of the US Armed Forces continuously deploy or train to deploy throughout the United States and abroad in support of the nation’s many needs. They can be gone for days, weeks, or months, depending on the mission requirements. During these times, military families must do more than merely survive, they must thrive. School lunches must be made, bills must be paid, and life must go on as a “new normal” is adopted. For service members who have a partner, they leave them on the domestic battlefield to go-it-alone; assuming the entirety of the duties and responsibilities that were once shared as a team. If the family is headed by a single caregiver, or both partners are in the military, short- and long-term care plans must be engaged; usually resulting in children being passed to the care of extended family members. Whatever the case, it is not just the service member who bears the brunt of deployment, it is also the families left behind who are expected to carry this burden with an unwavering resolve.

As a retired United States Army Infantryman, I have personally closed the front door in the early morning hours headed to one place or another, more times than I can recall. I kissed my kids and wished them a good night, all of us knowing I would be gone before they woke. I hugged my wife at the door in the morning and left her in charge of our family, and everything that entailed, whether she wanted it or not. I would go and jump out of airplanes, train in the jungle, the desert, or the frozen waste of the tundra, to be the most effective Soldier I could be. I received top notch instruction on how to survive from the best experts in the world. It wasn’t until years later that I realized while I was out receiving this world-class training, my wife was fighting her own fight with zero training at all. There were no formal blocks of instruction on becoming the best Army wife she could be, no classes on how to run a household, raise three children, and balance a checkbook while under the crushing pressure of the knowledge of the dangers of her husband’s profession. The US Military never offered to teach my wife how to manage the daily uncertainty and fear that came with every combat tour I deployed to.

Quite the contrary; with little to no experience, military families are expected to shoulder the immense weight life throws at them with an unimaginable amount of strength in the face of the unknown. They are expected to solve complex family equations, create stability and routine for their children, and in the face of unthinkable loss, display a nearly impossible measure of stoic courage. When the service members complete their time in the military, they continue to support their Veteran as they discover their new identity and redefine their role in the family and civilian world. Through all of this, their sacrifice and contribution go mostly unrecognized.

The Veteran and Military Family team at Jefferson Center is dedicated to ensuring these sacrifices, and the impact military families have on their Veteran or active-duty service members do not go unnoticed. Whether it be through direct clinical services or connecting families to the resources they need to thrive, it is our mission to provide the best care we possibly can and meet military families where they are.

Introducing Jefferson Center’s ‘Serving Those Who Served’ Summit

Mental Health Month brings much attention to not only the conversations around mental health, but also what needs to be done to expand care. Mental health conditions are common, manageable, and treatable. There are many things that can affect your mental well-being, including: life events, school, work, major changes, relationships, and more. As a result, 1 in 5 people will experience a mental health condition in any given year. Providing a full range of services to address these needs is core to Jefferson Center for Mental Health.

At Jefferson Center, we serve all clients regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, social status, or a variety of other factors. But in this post, we want to highlight a population that is disproportionately affected by mental health conditions in Colorado; our Veterans and families of those who served. In Colorado, Veterans and active-duty service members account for 20% of all suicides and make up only 9% of the state’s population (Colorado Health Institute). Nationwide, Veterans are 57% more likely to commit suicide than those who have not served and it is the second-leading cause of death among Veterans under the age of 45 (VA). Zero Suicide is our goal for everyone, including Veterans and Service Members. Other conditions affecting our Veterans include PTSD, substance use disorders, higher incidences of being unhoused, and more.

The Veteran and Military Family Services team at Jefferson Center provides care for all branches, all duty statuses, all discharge statuses, and the families of these groups. The members in this team are Veterans themselves, family members to someone service-connected, or have strong ties to this community. The Veteran and Military Family Services team had a vision of bringing Veteran and Military Family community partners together to spread awareness and expand access to services within Colorado. April 17th, 2024 marked the first annual Serving Those Who Served, Summit

This event, hosted at the Colorado Gives Foundation, brought together 41 Veteran and/or active-duty services community partners. In addition, a diverse showing of attendees including behavioral/mental health, the VA, case management, service animals, recreational therapy, housing, and more. During this event, community partners discussed strengths and weaknesses of the current infrastructure and access to services available to our Veterans. Some strengths mentioned were trust, an eagerness to collaborate, and building connections and community. Conversely, it was recognized that the system is reactive and bureaucratic and that more funding and quicker and easier access to care were needed.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health condition and needs support, please contact Jefferson Center for Mental Health at (303) 425-0300. You don’t have to go through your struggles alone.

Understanding Veterans’ Mental Health: Going Beyond Stereotypes

When discussing mental health in the veteran population, the focus is often centered around suicide prevention, given the alarming rates within this community. However, it is crucial to recognize that veteran mental health encompasses more than just this one aspect. A significant factor that greatly impacts the well-being of many veterans is their deep-rooted sense of identity derived from their service to the nation. Understanding this unique aspect is essential to provide effective support to veterans and challenge misconceptions.

Misguided Perceptions and Barriers

For those who haven’t served in the armed forces, comprehending the profound impact of military service on one’s identity can be challenging. This lack of understanding can lead to misguided perceptions and create barriers in veteran treatment. One such example is the assumption that all veterans possess firearms, are prone to violence, and require extra precautions during interactions. It’s important to dispel these preconceptions to ensure veterans receive the support they need.

Diverse Military Roles

Contrary to popular belief, the majority of the veteran population did not engage in direct combat operations or handle firearms extensively during their time in uniform. Only a small portion of America’s armed forces are directly involved in combat. The majority of military personnel serve in crucial support roles, ensuring the overall functioning and success of the military and national security.

Dispelling Media Stereotypes

Media, including Hollywood, often perpetuates a specific image of military members, portraying every soldier as an Army Ranger, every sailor as a Navy SEAL, every airman as a pilot, and every Marine as a member of Force Recon. This narrow portrayal disregards the vast diversity of military roles and experiences. It is essential to recognize that sensationalizing military experiences can pressure veterans into conforming to these stereotypes, diminishing the significance of their individual contributions to the military’s overall operation.

The Value of Every Military Experience

It is important to acknowledge that every veteran’s lived experience as a member of the armed forces is unique and valuable. Regardless of their specific duties, whether it involved firing machine guns, jumping out of airplanes, providing support services, or maintaining the logistical aspects of military operations, every individual’s military experience contributes to the overall success of the military. Each veteran’s story holds triumphs, failures, good times, and bad, and it is through the collective efforts of all veterans that the military remains operational.

Understanding the complexities of veteran mental health requires moving beyond the focus solely on suicide prevention. Through our recognition of the profound sense of identity derived from military service and dispelling misconceptions surrounding veterans, we can provide better support and care. Every veteran’s story is unique, and each individual’s contribution to the military is valuable. By honoring their experiences and identities, we can truly appreciate the sacrifices they have made to keep our nation safe.

Supporting Veterans and Their Mental Health

Thankfully, mental health concerns among veterans have gained more attention and have been taken more seriously in recent years. Disorders such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression are some of the most highly broadcasted mental health issues regarding veterans, popularized, though not always accurately depicted, by many films and television shows. However, other mental health disorders can also affect veterans, such as traumatic brain injuries (TBI), substance use, anxiety, insomnia, and more. Like any community, veterans are not a one-size-fits-all group. Their experience changes based on what branch they served in, the time period in which they served, their background prior to joining the military, and many other factors.

Whether a veteran in your life is a close friend, beloved family member, or perhaps a coworker or new acquaintance, you want to support them, but you also don’t want them to feel othered, meaning feeling as though they are inherently different or isolated. Ask them what their service meant to them, but don’t assume that they’re always ready and willing to talk about their service. If you are not sure if they want to talk about their experiences, it is okay to ask them if you can ask some questions, but also respect their wishes if they tell you they would rather not talk about it. Veterans are people, and by engaging them with respect and compassion, we can help create a more welcoming environment.

To better support a veteran with their mental health, it helps to have a better understanding of the causes, symptoms, and treatments of some of the most common disorders for veterans. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), has helpful resources to teach you more about suicide, depression, PTSD, TBI, and anxiety.

5 Ways You Can Support Veterans’ Mental Health | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness

If a veteran you know is struggling with their mental health, reach out to them. Let them know you care about their well-being and that they don’t have to suffer in silence. Support is available for them in their community. Have community resource information available to give them. Jefferson Center offers veteran and military family services, providing confidential counseling to help with mental health disorders, substance use disorders, life after the military, healing from military sexual trauma (MST), transitioning from homelessness, and more. Click the link below to learn more about Jefferson Center’s services and programs available to veterans and military families.


Veteran’s Day – What It Means to Them…and Us

Our military service taught us and molded us in multiple ways. We know how to work hard, learn difficult things quickly, and make difficult decisions with incomplete information. But we also learned not to stick out. There is a reason we wore camouflage uniforms. We all looked the same, which reminded us that we were all small parts of something much bigger than ourselves. Drawing attention to yourself is just distracting from more important things.

We are good at hiding: our observation posts from the bad guys, our fears from our battle buddies and families, and ourselves from the Sergeant looking for young soldiers sleeping in the barracks when they are supposed to be cleaning their vehicles. We did these things because they kept us safe.

We learned to protect and focus on others. That’s both good and bad

For some veterans, these now-innate abilities can cause problems. Think of the veteran who discloses to her doctor that she has nightmares about Afghanistan three times a week because she doesn’t want to take a referral that could go to a veteran “who really needs it.” There is also the veteran experiencing homelessness who didn’t mention his service in the Gulf War when asked by the police officer checking in on him because he is embarrassed by the “fake veterans” panhandling at intersections with signs proclaiming military service. And the Khe Sanh veteran who became one of the “20-a-day” lost to suicide because he believed asking for help somehow made him less of a Marine.

There are many veterans who could use some serious help. We offer that at Jefferson Center 720-826-4283). But please don’t forget most veterans aren’t hiding on the margins of society. We are your neighbor. In your yoga group. Teaching your kids. Giving you a ticket on Wadsworth when you were only going 6 miles over the speed limit.

We’ve done great things. We are doing greater things and will continue to do so. We generally don’t spend all our time hanging out in our dens looking at old military mementos like they are prized trophies. If we do, that’s where you, our members of the community, can help. We don’t want the spotlight and don’t want to be your “veteran neighbor/ friend/ yoga teacher.” Continuing to have a purpose, whatever our individual paths, keeps us going.

How You Can Make a Difference…That Matters

Introduce us to your buddy looking to hire an experienced mechanic with a track record of high performance in high-stress situations. Share the flyer from your kid’s school about the need for math tutors or mentors. We don’t see ourselves as “heroes.” Hiding in plain sight is more comfortable.

But Veteran’s Day is different. Hopefully, you were able this last weekend to heap on that praise and serve it with a side of free cheeseburgers, BBQ, or coffee. Please remember, the veterans in your community–of all eras–appreciate your good intentions, but not at the cost of living in the spotlight. That’s a lonely place to be. Instead, welcome us as valuable members of the community who have both strengths and challenges. That’s how you can directly help in a way that matters most to us.

Carl LoFaro is the former manager of Veteran and Military Family Services at the Jefferson Center. He served in the Army and deployed to Iraq as a member of a Combat Stress Team. He has been working with the military and veterans for 10 years and is passionate about assisting communities to be welcoming places for Veterans to come.

A Letter From One Veteran to Another

It’s been a few years since you were in the service and your hair is a little longer, you wake up a little later, and you’ve probably called in to skip work once or twice because you just didn’t feel like going in. You’ve got a new routine that doesn’t include missing birthdays and holidays every other year or shaving every day whether you need it or not. Perhaps you’ve started school or a new career and you go to the lake every other weekend like you promised yourself during those long nights in the guard tower during your second deployment. Maybe your stress disappeared when you drove out the gates of Fort Stewart or Camp Lejeune and you’ve never had a bad day since.

For some of us veterans, life after the military has been the magical honeymoon that exceeded the wildest daydreams we ever had while waiting for the commander to deliver the Friday afternoon safety brief. I’ve never met any of these men and women, have you?

Life is challenging. Stress exists. No different in civilian life than when you wore the uniform. It’s hard to avoid. What you can do is make sure you are as prepared as you can be to cope with it. We can all benefit from repurposing some of the stress reduction techniques that served us well in the military:

  1. PT (yes, even the Air Force did it) – We don’t need to do a log run at 6:30 in the morning or sit-ups to see the physical and mental benefits of exercise. A 20-minute walk during your lunch hour a few times a week will do wonders for your mood.
  2. Hanging out at the smoke pit – OK, this writer DOES NOT recommend smoking. You worked so hard to kick that habit. Instead, spend some time away from your duties to socialize in an informal setting. Whether it’s the water cooler, the student lounge, or leaning on your lawnmower and talking to your neighbor: Just Do It.
  3. MRE masterpieces – Remember the soldier who could turn some vegetable crackers, cocoa powder, and hot sauce into 5-star experience? That’s called “mastery.” What is your “mastery?” If you know, spend more time doing it. If not, figure it out and spend time doing it.
  4. Letters from Home – Whether it was Basic Training or a deployment, mail call was often the best part of our day or week. Seeing that someone cared enough about you to write you a real letter was a big deal. Send some letters, get some back, repeat.

The point here is this—as memorable or as tough as some of the times we faced were, we needed each other and we depended on each other. We did it together. We lived our motto of nobody left behind. We still do. Some of you might not be coping with civilian life as well as you’d like. You and your family know that.

A skilled professional like your Staff Sergeant (with that huge mustache that went out of style in the ‘70’s) can impart some useful wisdom when you need it most. Like when he told you you’re going to be learning something new. We will get you the tools you need to succeed, you’re not alone.  You took the lessons you learned from that guy and applied them going forward. Same can be said about working with a counselor. Meet with a professional for a time, learn some things, practice them on your own time, and Continue Mission.  Call our Veterans and Military Families team at 303-432-5054 for more information.

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