Why Being a Military Spouse Was Harder Than Being a Veteran: A Veterans Perspective
Over 20 years ago I stood in front of my parents and my recruiter taking an oath of enlistment. A few years later I stood in front of my family and friends taking an oath of marriage. In one of those oaths I swore; “That I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” while in the other I swore to, “Love, honor and cherish until death do us part.” On the surface these oaths seem very different, but to me they are very similar.
While one of those oaths required me to wear a uniform, carry a weapon and leave my home at a moments notice, the other required only that I remain faithful to my spouse, who wore the uniform, carried a weapon and left home- a lot. Both experiences required sacrifice, to the Army I offered up to and including my life- to my husband I offered up to and including my life. The question became does my sacrifice as a military veteran equal my sacrifices as a military spouse? Can I be called a veteran because I’ve been married to one?
There were two articles addressing the issue of whether a military spouse should be considered a veteran. The first one suggested that as military spouses we often make sacrifices that go unnoticed.
The second article in my opinion, was much more eloquent in describing those sacrifices.
The response to the first article by most military spouses was an immediate and definite NO YOU ARE NOT A VETERAN! There is an unspoken understanding that as a spouse, we’re not serving in the military. We don’t wear the uniform, so we’re not entitled to the same treatment. Many of us have a very strong reaction to military spouses who believe they’re entitled to special treatment based on their spouse’s rank. “Put on your combat boots and then you can order me around, ma’am.” is a phrase that’s been known to cross my lips while in uniform. Out of uniform, the battles I’ve fought to support my husband through his PTSD, without the support of fellow soldiers or spouses, were just as difficult.
In my personal opinion, my sacrifices as a military veteran don’t equal the sacrifices I’ve made as a military spouse. My sacrifices in caring for my wounded warrior spouse far outweigh what little I did as a combat medical specialist in the Iowa National Guard. Being in the military empowered me, being a military spouse left me feeling powerless. This is not the case for everyone I’m sure, but for me it rings true. I fought harder as a military spouse against the very institutions that supported me as a soldier, than I ever did against any enemy combatants.
I have PTSD not from combat service, but from my service as an Emergency Medical Technician, from sexual assault, from rape- both in and out of the military as well as secondary PTSD from my military marriage. I didn’t have to go to war to end up with nightmares, depression, a need for isolation, substance abuse and suicidal tendencies. I’ve held strangers and friends in my arms as they died. I’ve been shot at and held hostage- twice. I’ve also been physically and verbally abused, by my ex-husband the combat veteran.
Do those experiences have less value because I wasn’t wearing a military uniform? When we define what makes a veteran, why do we feel a need to exclude those fighting to save those who fought? Someone suggested that we look up the definition in the dictionary;
A person who is long experienced or practiced in an activity or capacity.
a veteran of political campaigns.
A person who has served in the armed forces.
Having had long experience or practice.
a veteran actor.
Long experience or practice- that qualifies me as a military marital veteran. I’m not asking for a parade, a medal or even a federal holiday for being a military spouse, even a thank you seems gratuitous. What I would like is a support network better than the one I had, the one I’m leaving. It took several years of battling the system to get anyone to listen to “the spouses”, and we’re still fighting for the support we’ve earned. Instead of judging or ignoring the battles many of us face, let’s talk about it. We’re all survivors in this adventure… asking for recognition isn’t about complaining or entitlement it’s about opening a dialogue to change. After 16 years of struggling in a failed marriage, I’m the first to shy away from the label veteran. I would call myself a survivor, could you?