A caregiver’s account of supporting his wife’s recovery from invisible wounds

  • Published
  • Invisible Wounds Initiative Program

There are many roles a person will play in a lifetime. For military families, these roles often cross the threshold of personal and professional life. As an active-duty security forces training instructor at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Tech. Sgt. Justin Goad can list Airman, father, husband and caregiver as a few of the roles he cherishes most. It was not until Justin’s wife, retired Master Sgt. Lisa Goad, sought treatment for her PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, that he reconsidered how to better support her and the Airmen that he mentors each day.

In 2008, three years before Lisa and Justin met, Lisa was a victim of sexual assault. The assault resulted in wounds both seen and unseen, a hip injury as well as invisible wounds that she would battle in the years that followed. In 2011, Lisa changed duty locations from Guam to New Mexico, where she initially met Justin as her fellow security forces wingman, though eventually she came to know him as her husband and the father of her children. In 2013, Lisa received her first hip surgery to begin healing the physical limitations that she was experiencing. Although she was able to walk, her limitations included certain activities that posed risk for causing further injuries such as running or biking. Lisa received several surgeries to mend her physical wounds but the invisible ones persisted. For Lisa, the assault’s consequences manifested as anxiety, irritability, an inability to leave the home, and a fear of driving. Justin said that neither he nor Lisa recognized these as signs and symptoms of her PTSD – both were naïve to the extent PTSD could affect someone. Justin’s inability to support his wife turned to a sense of frustration in their relationship.

After years of uncertainty, Lisa was diagnosed with PTSD and attended an Air Force Wounded Warrior Program (AFW2) CARE event in 2016 with the full support of her commanders. She attended two events and then urged Justin to go with her to the third one. Justin followed her lead and took part in an event at Joint-Base San Antonio where he met other caregivers who shared their experiences supporting their warriors.

As one of the few male caregivers at the event, Justin was initially reserved and felt awkward listening to others share their vulnerabilities. “I questioned why I was there. I had come from a culture where men don’t talk about their feelings or their problems,” Justin recalls. Despite his hesitancy, Justin’s perspective shifted over the course of a week as he listened to other caregivers tell their stories, only to realize that he and his wife shared similar experiences to everyone else.

Justin attended a course on PTSD symptoms offered during the Warrior CARE event. Through this activity, Justin began to understand Lisa’s behavior and realize his own shortfalls in supporting her as a husband and caregiver. “Before the AFW2 program, I didn’t understand what my warrior was going through. I didn’t understand how to support my warrior mentally and emotionally, which sometimes caused me to feel frustrated,” he says. “I felt guilty and ashamed at how I treated her because of my naivety. I can now better support her by giving her space when she needs to have a quieter day, doing tasks around the house, or looking after our daughters.” Assuming broader shoulders as a husband and a father, Justin grew into his role as a caregiver.

The program also gave Justin and Lisa a support network and an outlet to share their experiences without judgement. It allowed them to hear from others about their struggles with invisible wounds. “Camaraderie and talking with someone who has gone through similar experiences, and really understands you, can change your life. I now have several close friends who I met during the Warrior CARE events who I talk to on a regular basis,” Justin said.

As an active-duty security forces instructor at JBSA-Lackland, Justin found an outlet at his work. Through this role, he was able to educate Airmen on how to overcome adversity and challenges in their careers. The sense of camaraderie Justin felt from the CARE events transferred over to his role at work, where he applied his newfound knowledge on PTSD by encouraging Airmen to talk about their mental health with others.

Having experienced his own struggles sharing his and his wife’s vulnerabilities, Justin continues to reduce the concerns of his Airmen, who believe seeking treatment for their invisible wounds could negatively impact their careers. “You are still a defender even if you cannot arm. You did not do all this training and dedicate your blood, sweat, and tears to earn this badge and beret only to be deprived of that for not being able to arm,” he says. Justin believes his Airmen each have value to serve and be part of the team no matter their mental state. He continues, “You are going to have a point in your career where you are going to see something, or something happens to you. There are people out there who have been in these conflicts and struggles and are still active duty.” Justin tells Airmen to find what works for them but encourages them to find a support network so they do not face their battles alone.

“One particular Airman had just come back from deployment and everybody noticed a change — he was showing up late for work, oversleeping, and not acting like himself. I recognized his symptoms and encouraged him to talk to someone about seeking help,” Justin said. That Airman received treatment and was able to retain his active-duty status. He reinforces this with his Airmen by saying, “You only have one body and one mind that you have to take care of. The Air Force will go on in its mission with or without you.”

Justin learned to keep his Airmen mentally fit and mission ready. “Mistakes can happen if you are not mentally ready to handle a stressful situation. Knowing yourself and knowing when to take a knee is critical in not only your job but also in life,” he says. He encourages Airmen to seek help with an open mind and lean on the Air Force’s available resources, such as the Military & Family Life Counseling Program, Military OneSource, Veterans Crisis Line, and the AFW2 program. For Justin, these programs saved his marriage. For his wife, these programs saved her life.

After her 21-year career in the Air Force, Justin could not be prouder of his wife’s resilience. Reflecting on their journey, Justin says, “Being open to accepting support made me a better husband, defender, and father. There are times where I have not been the best husband, caregiver, or wingman — I know that now. But every day I try to make myself better.” Through good days and bad, the roles one assumes are not always perfect, but for Justin, they can often mean the world to those he loves and leads.

Editor Note: Invisible wounds are as real and severe as physical wounds. If left untreated invisible wounds can have negative impacts on an Airman’s personal and professional life. It is important for Airmen to recognize signs and symptoms of invisible wounds in themselves and in their peers, to ensure a mentally strong, resilient, and lethal Total Force. The Air Force is committed to supporting Airmen living with invisible wounds by providing a wide range of resources to support their recovery journey. To share your own stories of invisible wounds and/or learn about available resources visit www.ReadyAirmen.com.