Caregiver Confronts Husband’s Combat-related Rage
By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service
SAN ANTONIO, Nov. 30, 2011 When her soldier husband was injured in Iraq, Catrina Tomsich gave up everything to be with him. She shut down her business, left a support network of friends and uprooted their 5-year-old son, Brayden, to move here to help him recover.
Army Sgt. John Tomsich and his wife, Catrina, play with their son, Brayden, at the Warrior and Family Support Center in San Antonio, Nov. 10, 2011. Tomsich came to Brooke Army Medical Center for treatment for a spinal injury. Catrina Tomsich put her business on hold to join him. DOD photo by Linda Hosek
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
She did so without hesitation, but not without fear.
Her concerns didn’t center on her husband’s recovery -- his injuries weren’t life threatening -- or their uncertain future, but on her own safety and that of her son’s.
Catrina’s husband, Army Sgt. John Tomsich, had been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder since 2005. The noncommissioned officer maintained a stoic front for his troops, but barely could contain his rage at home.
“For five years I heard, ‘I hate you; I don’t love you anymore’ every day,” she told American Forces Press Service. “That can definitely take an emotional toll on someone.”
Catrina first noticed a change in her husband after his 2005 deployment in Kosovo, his first since he joined the Army in 1998. He was there during a period of political tension, he recalled, and was out shopping one day with several of his leaders when hostilities broke out around them. Weapons were fired, he said, but no one was seriously injured. They wound up cornered in a hotel, uncertain of what would occur overnight.
“That’s where the anger started,” Tomsich said, “but I didn’t talk about it to anyone.” Noncommissioned officers couldn’t discuss their problems with anger or depression, he believed at the time, or the troops under them would question the integrity of their leadership. Instead, he said, “You try and fight it and not tell anyone you have problems.”
Tomsich returned home after an 18-month tour in 2006 only to deploy again in 2009, this time to Iraq. Although an infantryman by trade, he was pulled to serve on detainee guard duty. About six months into his deployment, he suffered a spinal injury to his neck while on duty that caused him to lose the use of his right arm.
The doctors weren’t equipped to treat him in Iraq, so Tomsich was sent to Brooke Army Medical Center here in April 2010.
Catrina drove from Houston to see her husband every weekend, but she soon realized he needed full-time care after he developed a stomach illness that required surgery. That’s when she shut down the financial education business she had started in 2007, packed up her house and son, and moved here to care for him.
But she did so with trepidation. While he was physically improving and recovering the use of his arm, his PTSD was growing worse. “The anger was awful,” she said. “He was snapping on every little thing. Anything would make him upset and angry.”
“I was even abusive to her in my dreams,” he added. One night, he recalled, he kept yelling at her in his sleep to “Stand down!”
The years of anger and rage were wearing on Catrina. In short, “Our marriage was on the rocks,” she said.
Tomsich had evaded mental health care for years, and dismissed his wife’s urging get help. But after a particularly bad episode one weekend, Catrina took matters into her own hands. “He had so much anger and rage,” she said, “and that weekend our son saw it, and was crying and scared of Daddy.
“I wasn’t about to let that happen anymore. I put my foot down.”
Catrina marched into a trailer where she knew behavioral health specialists worked, and demanded to speak to a counselor. “I had no idea what I was doing,” she said. Yet, a week later, Tomsich was placed in counseling.
Tomsich underwent in-depth psychological testing and evaluation, and was diagnosed with severe PTSD.
Concerned about being perceived as weak, he was resistant to treatment -- a combination of counseling and medication -- but a counselor gave him the “verbal kick in the butt” he needed, he said. She told him she had problems too and the first step to healing was to open up about them. “She told me, ‘Just tell me your issues and we’ll work from there’” he said. “It got worse at first, but then slowly started to get better.”
Catrina noticed a marked improvement over time. Her husband is still not where he was when they got married, she said, but “he’s 100 times better than in 2005.”
Tomsich and his wife now share their story with others to encourage them to seek the help they need without fear of career repercussions. Catrina even has taken women to seek help for their husbands as she did nearly two years ago.
As for Tomsich, “I tell [soldiers], if they don’t seek help, I’m going to have their wives tell on them like mine did,” he joked.
Catrina said she’s seen marriages break under the pressure of a spouse’s physical and emotional wounds. It’s a path she knows she could have taken during her years of emotional abuse.
“But I believe you should never give up,” she said. “Women come and tell me, ‘He’s not the man he used to be.’ I tell them, ‘Never give up.’ If I had, we wouldn’t be here together now.
“No matter what we’re given in life, we can choose how we deal with it,” she added. “And I’m going to choose to have a positive attitude.”
Tomsich will medically retire in January, and the couple plans to move to North Carolina to be near family. Catrina said she and her mother are starting a nonprofit organization called Operation Tranquility that will offer retreats to wounded warriors and Gold Star families.
“Being here for the past two years really inspired me,” she said. “Seeing the changes in my family … I want to help others achieve the same things.”