The 21st century has presented both new challenges and new opportunities for military families. In a panel moderated by ABC News’s John Donovan, Dr. Tommy Sowers, the Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Alan Reyes, a senior Vice President with the USO and Brannan Vines, the founder and president of the nonprofit Family of a Vet discussed life on the home front for the loved ones of those on the front lines.
Vines, whose husband returned home from two combat tours with severe wounds from PTSD and traumatic brain injury, talked about her efforts to care for her spouse and at times expressed frustration with the help she has received from the VA. As a result of his injuries, she said, the man who came home was very different than the one that she married. On over two dozen different occasions, IEDs—the signature insurgent weapons of modern warfare—had exploded near him. The resulting concussions and brain trauma changed him. “He came back a very different man,” said Vines. “It was almost like an arranged marriage. He looked the same” but, in many ways, was a different person.
The impact of IEDs and other new weapons, though, has been matched by great changes in how veterans and their families are able to support each other. Now, as Reyes said, the USO has 9 centers all over Afghanistan, which enables combat soldiers to be present in the delivery room via Skype and watch their wives give birth from half a world away. These new services to support families were emphasized by Sowers as well.
Sowers, the Obama administration official, talked about how the president has emphasized re-orienting the VA towards the families of veterans and discussed the wide variety of services that the agency provides to assist families, ranging from home mortgages to life insurance.
As the panel discussed, those who fought in Iraq and still serve in Afghanistan have had to worry about new injuries from new weapons in a new type of war. They benefit from a more comprehensive support system and far more understanding public than past generations of veterans, but as Vine’s own struggles to care for her husband made clear, there are critical improvements to veteran’s services that still need to be made.