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Helping Military Families Cope With Suicide: A Wife's Perspective

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Jackie McMichael with her husband, Mike.
Jackie McMichael with her husband, Mike.

This article is part of a special Huffington Post series, "Invisible Casualties," in which we shine a spotlight on suicide-prevention efforts within the military. As part of the series, The Huffington Post contacted military service members and veterans who have considered suicide to learn what saved them from that irrevocable step.

Jackie McMichael, 40, never envisioned that she would become responsible for managing almost every aspect of her husband's life. But after Mike McMichael came home from a combat tour in Iraq with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, her life changed drastically. She learned through heartbreaking experience, including Mike's brushes with suicide, how to construct a new life for them and their children. But like too many other military families, her struggle has not been easy, and it's not over.

The Huffington Post asked Jackie how she would improve the odds for others whose loved ones have returned damaged from war. She writes:

Online help: There were days I truly just did not want to talk to someone. I was either too embarrassed, afraid or tired to come out and say I needed help. I needed a more passive way to begin looking for answers, solutions, advice on what to do. There's a lot of information online. What is needed is a roadmap to it all. Sometimes having too much is overwhelming and worse than not having enough. Also, there was virtually nothing to help children through the challenges we faced. We’ve had to go to the private sector for this type of support.

Financial counseling: When Mike was no longer able to work or serve, he went on VA disability compensation and his income and long-term earning potential changed drastically. Since he was with the National Guard, he had a private sector job, but that suddenly was no longer an option. We lost his 401(k) matching contributions and all the benefits that go along with employment in a private company.

I would have just appreciated talking to someone to help me with financial planning. I think this could be a matter of partnering with organizations to help vets and families acclimate to varying financial situations.

A collaborative health care mentality: The private sector doctors were not at all interested in involving me in Mike’s care. Despite the fact that the medications they were rapidly changing were causing side effects that could cause potential harm to Mike, me or our two small boys.

I would have wanted a system where I had a forum to formally provide input on what I am seeing at home. Mike was often not upfront with his doctors about how he was feeling or what he was feeling. They were taking him at face value, and that action lost us years of what could have been treatment time. We did start to see more collaborative care when we went to the VA, but we had to push.

Improved education for health care providers: Veterans are often angry, confrontational, distrusting of authority, unwilling to discuss the possibility of emotional or mental issues. A different set of questions is needed, a different level of patience is required to help a veteran.

Improved education for employers: Mike’s company was cold and ignorant to his issues. They showed no compassion and offered no help to an employee who was obviously in crisis. We see commercials, radio ads, billboards every day encouraging employers to hire a vet. But how prepared are they to work with a vet? Do they have the ability and willingness to meet the needs of veterans in transition from combat to cubicle?

To see all the articles, blog posts, audio and video in this series, click here. If you would like to share your story, send an email to impactblogs@huffingtonpost.com.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the national crisis line for the military and veterans at 1-800-273-8255, or send a text to 838255.