I currently live in Central Florida, a great place to live if you love warm beaches, sunshiny days, and being around veterans. With one of the highest veteran populations in the nation, it is not uncommon for a news story to appear on veterans issues. So I wasn’t initially surprised when I started reading about a retired female Marine in south Florida last week…until I realized that the story was about her shooting her 9-year old daughter, and then committing suicide. The article was heartbreaking, especially when I read that those around her were aware that she was having “difficulties transitioning.” As the article was shared in the female veterans community, there were discussions on how can we do better?
So what does difficulty transitioning mean? It means she needed support. Professional support, but also support from her fellow veterans. Often veterans leave active service with feelings of great loss, and that becomes even more complicated by a lack of mission, and feeling like a fish out of water in the civilian world. I know this, because I remember how hard it was for me when I got out in 1994.
My discharge was not my choice. I had just been promoted, was dating a great guy, loved my MOS, and was enjoying the California sunshine, when another soldier reported an ongoing series of incidents that had happened between a sergeant and myself, presumably on my behalf. I was interviewed, admitted that the assaults had indeed happened, and after being harassed and written up for things such as not having my ID card on me, I was out of the Army less than a month later.
I convinced myself that after the harassment started, I had wanted out anyway, but there was no denying the shame and loss of honor it caused me. Not to mention feeling betrayed by those who were supposed to fight beside me, as brothers and sisters. It was a tragic loss for me, and it shook my entire belief system that I had sunk into by being part of the greatest family in the world. Lock, stock and barrel, it was a loss of home, job, family, security, trust and way of life…all at once.
I ended up in a tent in the campground on Fort Lewis, very near where I had grown up. Somehow, losing everything felt less painful from there, though it was also hard to watch everyone bustling around in uniform, with a sense of purchase, while I stayed on the fringe, feeling like a failure. It would have been nice to have tapped in to the support from those I had grown up with, but I felt as though everyone could see how I had fallen short, just by looking at me. There was also a strong sense of not fitting in with civilians anymore. Like I was a fish out of water. I was incredibly depressed. There were times that I didn’t even feel like going on, but luckily, that wasn’t to be my story.
I know many of us have felt many of these same feelings. Do we all describe them as “difficulty transitioning”? Today, I am in a much better place, though the scars from that loss will never go away. Normal parental exhaustion has triggered symptoms and nightmares previously managed by getting enough sleep when I was single. But I’m also more connected to the veterans community today. I have dozens of women I call Sister. I know I can call on them if I need to, and I feel less alone in my brokenness today than I ever did when I first got out. I also know that being broken doesn’t mean you’re out of the game. It doesn’t mean my service is over. Maybe that’s the most valuable thing I’ve taken back for myself…my oath of service. As a veteran, I choose to continue my path of service, and now I know that helping my brothers and sisters is not something that can ever be taken away from me. And neither is their support for me. So I got my family back after all.