A few days ago, I ran across an article written by a Yahoo! contributor named Lauren Finnegan. Finnegan is a military wife whose article was about the sad case involving Julie Scheneker, the Tampa Army wife who shot and killed her two kids. Scheneker's husband, an Army colonel, was in Qatar on business and supposedly Scheneker lost it when her son, Beau, became "mouthy".
Lauren Finnegan asks if military spouses should have mental screenings like servicemembers do. My immediate reaction to that question was kind of a vehement "no". I am against "screenings" for several reasons. The first reason is that I think requiring screenings of military spouses is a waste of time and resources. Granted, if you go to a military treatment facility for medical care, you will be asked questions to determine whether or not you're mentally stable or in an abusive relationship. But what about people like me? I make it a point not to visit military doctors whenever possible. In fact, I saw a military doc for the first time in three years just a few months ago. So how is the military going to screen me? I don't even go on post if I can help it.
Secondly, those screening questions are pretty easy to fudge. It's pretty obvious what the "right" answers are. And while the military pays a lot of lip service about servicemembers getting help for their mental problems, the reality is that servicemembers can end up being punished for doing so. It's not uncommon for them to lose security clearances and miss out on promotions because of a documented mental health history. Moreover, spouses can be forced to join the Exceptional Family Member Program if they have had issues with their mental health. I was made to join EFMP several years ago because I once sought treatment for depression and anxiety. I was threatened when I balked-- a coordinator told me that my husband could be kicked out the Army if I didn't cooperate. While EFMP is a great program for some families, for others, it sucks because it can cause assignments to be cancelled.
Thirdly, I doubt screenings would make a difference. So Julie Scheneker comes up with red flags on her screening. Then what? Is the Army going to force her into treatment? Is the Army going to refuse to let her husband deploy (fat chance)? Are people going to be camped out at her house, looking for signs of trouble? Maybe someone might be able to talk her into seeking help, but what about her husband's career?
Mind you. I don't think the military's unofficial policies on mental health issues are wise. I absolutely believe that people who have problems with depression should seek treatment. However, I also think they should enjoy the right to privacy and not be penalized in their careers for getting help. And I certainly don't think a spouse's mental status should have much, if any, bearing on a servicemember's career, either. I have been around long enough to know the score... If I believed that screenings would be used only for good and I felt they wouldn't be a waste of time, I'd be all for them. But from what I've seen, mandatory mental health screenings for military spouses would turn into a shit sandwich pretty darn quick.
The best we can hope for now is to trust people to do the right thing and be sensible. Seems a lot to ask, doesn't it?