Being a military spouse is a hard job. It also can feel like an under-appreciated and overlooked job. Sometimes, in that role a spouse can feel like they have no voice, or at least no voice that anyone really wants to listen to.
I felt that way.
My husband is an airman who struggles with persistent depression and suicidal ideation. Watching him — us — stumble through the military’s mental health system left me feeling utterly hopeless.
One evening, four of us stood in my kitchen: my husband, me, his battle buddy, and his battle buddy’s wife. My husband had visited military mental health that day and was talking about how disjointed his appointment had been. He was seen by yet another new therapist (the third one in a matter of weeks), and this therapist was scheduled to move in about six months. He also discussed a mandatory questionnaire that became a tremendous source of frustration for him. Rather than having a set number of questions, it was a conditional questionnaire where more questions were added depending on how he responded. It took him 20 minutes to complete this questionnaire before he could even see a provider – only to be asked the exact same questions by the provider during the session. It proved to be a discouraging barrier for receiving the help he came to receive.
As the four of us discussed these experiences, I looked at them and said right then and there that I would do something about it.
Within that next week, I wrote to Air Force leadership and six different members of Congress (both Senate and House, Conservative and Liberal). I heard nothing back. After two weeks of waiting for responses, I knew I could not wait any longer, so I moved on to what I called my “Tier 2” plan.
Tier 2 had a name that I thought sounded professional and snazzy, but contained no actual plan. I looked for individuals who were leading experts in their fields — such as psychologists or psychiatrists who studied suicide, or retired military members who tried to tackle this problem — and simply emailed them. I only received about a 20% response rate, and many of them did not have influence or ideas either.
Finally, I reached out to Andrea Mazzarino, the author of an op-ed who was also a military spouse. She wrote about the myth of the “perfect military family,” and after I emailed her, she responded. We connected; I told her what was happening within our family. She gave me the courage to take the next step. On a Sunday afternoon, I cold emailed the editor of the Military Times asking if they would be interested in an op-ed by a military wife whose husband struggled with suicidal ideation and depression.
My article was printed three days later. One day after that, I was contacted by the Pentagon to discuss what I wrote, and the experiences that my husband and I have had with military mental health. From there, I was able to speak with numerous people, including Chiefs of Staff, almost all of whom were extremely helpful and willing to listen. I hope that they continue to work with me on this important issue.
I am thankful I took the leap to be vulnerable and write about what was happening with my family. There was so much fear — fear of repercussions for my husband’s career, fear of not being accepted in this revelation, and fear that I would be dismissed. But through my writing, I have had the ability to share how my husband’s struggles have impacted me and our children. He is not alone in his experiences or what he carries, but military members can feel muzzled when walking through this. Spouses are not limited to the chain of command, so whatever risk we faced became worth it to speak out while in the middle of the fight. So far, my written advocacy has opened many doors that were firmly closed before.
I see the value in a military spouse’s voice because it is my voice. I also firmly believe that spouses see things in military members that commands simply cannot. As I explain this to leadership in matter-of-fact terms, they have agreed with me and continue to hear me on my ideas and experiences.
We can all make a difference. Spouses play key roles in the military and in their families, and that experience lends us a unique perspective that can and should be shared.
Aleha Landry lives in Colorado with her husband and four children, and has spent the last decade as a stay-at-home mom, with eight of those as an Active Duty spouse. She has a passion for politics and policy, hates to cook (but cooks much due to aforementioned children), and loves to travel. She holds a bachelor’s of business administration from Colorado Christian University. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.