A big reason I am sharing our story is to educate the public about the struggles of combat families during wartime. As the wars draw down and our veterans are returning home, we are still going to need decades of care to heal from these experiences. My family is well cared for because Ollie’s injuries are visible. His rehab photos are inspiring and people can feel good about themselves for helping him. There scores of returning combat veterans who are injured, but their injuries are invisible. The lucky ones have family members who fight to get them the care they need.
The following letter is posted with permission from its author, Eliesha DelMastro. Our families were part of the same unit when it deployed in 2011. She wants you to know that her story is not unique. There are thousands more veterans who are struggling to get basic care for their war injuries. She wants other spouses to know that they are not alone, to keep up the good fight. Here is her story, in the form of a letter sent to as many authorities within the Army as she can find:
To Whom It May Concern:
My name is Eliesha DelMastro and I am writing in reference to my husband, SSG Travis DelMastro. We are currently stationed in Okinawa, Japan. My husband is in the process to being transferred to a Warriors In Transition Unit. We requested Fort Benning for a number of reasons, of which I will go into detail later in this letter. We were initially told it was approved, and were given a report date less than two months from now. Several days later, we were notified that his approval into the Fort Benning WTU was prematurely given and it was now denied and sent to Fort Gordon for approval.
My husband has deployed five times overseas. Each time he returns, his mental health/ PTSD gets worse and worse. Throughout his career, at various duty stations, he has been put through the ringer trying to get help. So many soldiers choose to avoid their issues and bury them away. It took my husband a lot to finally admit he had problems and to seek help. While stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky, he sought out mental health treatment for PTSD upon returning from his fifth deployment in Afghanistan. This deployment for him was “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” He lost two very good friends and missed the pregnancy and birth of his third child. The year prior to his deployment we lost our son, Lucas due to Trisomy 18. Needless to say, he was on edge throughout the deployment and felt helpless and guilty for not being home to support his family. My husband has always put the Army first. He has never hesitated to give the Army 100%, even if it means putting his family second. My husband made several attempts to get proper therapy at Fort Knox. Resources for him there were minimal to none. For a long time, all they offered him was treatment in the form of pills. When he was finally able to see an actual therapist, the appointments were constantly cancelled or rescheduled months out because of no availability. So many phone calls he would make to his therapist went unanswered and he was constantly being pushed to a back burner.
The time came to for us to start looking at PCS options. We made several requests, one of which was Fort Benning, Georgia. I was in the middle of nursing school, so we were looking for somewhere that I could finish school as well as get proper support from family and friends for both my husband and myself. After fighting with branch for several months trying to lock down our next duty station, we were blind-sided when we got orders to Okinawa, Japan. It was the complete opposite of everything we had requested. We had to quickly pack up our lives, with three kids in tow, and move across the world. I left behind nursing school and we left behind my husband’s entire support network. The moment we arrived to Okinawa, my husband immediately sought out mental health treatment. His PTSD symptoms were at an all time high. He never slept because of nightmares, he suffered from flashbacks and triggers at work constantly, and the crowded island of Okinawa made it to where he couldn’t even drive or leave the military base. He was finally seen by a mental health professional here who basically said we never should have been sent here in the condition that he was in. They by no means had the resources to care for him here. The only type of therapy they could offer him here was through VTC with a therapist in Hawaii. His therapist immediately recognized that his mental health needs far surpassed what she could offer him once every two weeks through a computer. In January, my husband was sent back to the states to a mental health rehab center in Texas to undergo intensive treatment for his PTSD. While the therapy was effective and useful, spending even MORE time away from his family often got in the way of his treatment. He was constantly distracted and worried because we were alone in Japan. When he got ready to return to Japan after his treatment, his doctors at the rehab center said that without proper follow up care, that the last 45 days were essentially a waste of time. When he returned to Japan, obviously they were still unable to cater to my husband’s mental health needs. The process of sending him to a WTU began and once again, I watched my husband’s mental health get worse and worse.
Both of my husband’s therapists have recommended long-term treatment care in a WTU. He requested Fort Benning, Georgia for multiple reasons. Number one: we did our research and the Fort Benning WTU is one of the best facilities there is. We also have a ton of family and friends in the area that would be there to offer their immediate support for both my husband and myself and kids. It’s not just mental health treatment that my husband needs; it’s being surrounded by fellow soldiers that he has deployed with in the past. They know him, they know his triggers, and he can open up and vent to them more than he can with just a therapist. Family means the world to the both of us and being near family also helps my husband tremendously.
In the 10 years that my husband and I have been together, I have never stopped worrying about him. That’s what a military spouse does. Every deployment, my husband comes home with a piece missing. I’ve watched my husband fade further and further into the dark because of his PTSD. He feels guilty about never being around for our kids and myself. When he is around, he isn’t himself. We don’t go to festivals or amusement parks. We don’t attend Fourth of July celebrations, or go to shopping malls. It’s a struggle even for my husband to go to my daughter’s dance recital. My husband took the first step in trying to get better, yet the Army keeps failing him. When we got the phone call that the Fort Benning WTU accepted us and we were finally going home in June I saw a side of my husband I hadn’t seen in years. He was happy. He was relieved. He was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief that he was going to get the treatment he needed and he would finally have an awesome support network. A few days later when we received word that it in fact wasn’t the case he was devastated. He’s gone back into his dark place and is giving up hope once again and as his wife, I don’t know what to say to him to make it better. There is nothing I can say at this point. He’s blaming himself. He feels he’s somehow failed his family and that it’s his fault we are not being sent to Fort Benning.
I would just like answers. All we have been told is that Fort Benning doesn’t have the resources to help him. This doesn’t make sense to us one single bit. It makes me wonder if my husband was really even looked at. Was he really even considered? Is my husband being looked at as a stack of paperwork or as a REAL person, with REAL problems? I feel like if he was looked at as an actual human being, then it would be seen that Fort Benning is the absolute BEST choice for my husband. I pray that whoever reads this please look at my husband’s file again. Forward this to whomever can help. Please reconsider and give my husband a chance. He deserves that. He is the best husband, father, and soldier I know, and all he wants is to get better. Be a better soldier. Be a better husband. Please.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I hope and pray it gets into the right hands and we can find some sort of resolution quickly.
Eliesha and Travis, thank you for sharing your struggles. Thank you for having the courage to speak publicly about this–you will inspire others to be honest about their own experiences. Keep up the good work. You are not in this alone.