It's the story of Aimee Ybarra, a mother of two grade-school children, whose husband came home after his fifth combat tour and told her he wanted to leave their 15-year marriage because he had gotten used to being gone. It's the story of Lisa Bernreuther, who's steeling herself for her husband's sixth deployment. She keeps his Army boots by the door, she says, "because sometimes I forget I even have a husband."
And it's the story of Gwendolyn Roberts, a bright, outgoing sixth-grader and "Daddy's girl." When her father left for war for the third time in five years, the spark went out of her and she tumbled into severe depression.
After nearly nine years of war, military families like these at Fort Hood in Central Texas find themselves in a relentless cycle of crisis and stress.
The results from that relentless cycle:
•Repeated combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan have split up marriages and forced kids to grow up without one or both parents for chunks of their childhood.
•Troops return home from combat tours with severe injuries and psychological disorders, thrusting spouses and other family members into new roles as long-term caregivers.
•Suicides in the military have risen to record levels, and the divorce rate has climbed steadily since the U.S. went to war in 2001.
These burdens of war have fallen heavily on the troops -- who represent less than 1 percent of the U.S. population -- and their families.
"Injuries that result in long-term changes in behavior or abilities can seriously challenge marriages, thrusting the spouse into a caregiving role, increasing the risk of depression and other psychological problems and increasing the likelihood of divorce," said a March 2010 report published by the Institute of Medicine.
Yet "there are not enough mental health providers to meet the demand, case managers and providers are overwhelmed, wait times are too long for appointments and between appointments for those in need of mental health and other services," the report stated. The institute's two-year study was mandated by Congress to help veterans readjust to civilian life.