Center to give troops' spouses a place to turn

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are fought long after the battles end, every day, in places such as a quiet tree-shaded street in Lancaster.

That's where a disabled soldier named Eric Miller, who was in the middle of the killing in Iraq, lives with his wife named Shirley.

He still lives with what happened. And his wife must, too.

Shirley Miller decided that military spouses like her need help dealing with those soldiers who leave then come home. She has created a support center for people like her.

Eric Miller, 36, joined the Army straight out of high school. He served in Iraq in Desert Storm. He left active duty and joined the Army Reserve. He was working as a warehouse supervisor when he was deployed to Iraq in 2003.

Shirley was home with two kids, and boom -- she was a single mother with bills and stress.

"I hung on," she said.

Eric was a truck driver in Iraq. His convoys were ambushed. He saw things, did things that God-fearing young men have been taught all their lives they should not do, to save himself and others.

"It was kill or be killed," he said.

Eric came home a year later and said, "I had my guard up against my wife and kids."

Shirley Miller said not only had she lost her husband to deployment, she had to handle his return.

"I got a soldier straight out of the battlefield, and I had no preparation for what to do," Shirley said.

The physical and emotional reality of that war in Iraq left Eric unable to work, he said. He can't drive far. He stays home most days. Eric is now diagnosed 100 percent military disabled.

Eric gets medical care because he is a veteran, but Shirley worried about people in similar situations. She met Sue Vigeant, an advanced psychiatric care nurse and certified family therapist who has worked in the nursing field for almost 40 years, with the last few years specifically helping veterans. Vigeant, in work with the Department of Veterans Affairs, helps Vietnam veterans, and now Iraq veterans, who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other afflictions.

Spouses have dealt with separation, then get the soldiers back. But the soldier can at times not be the same person who left. The soldier was in a world of violence and aggression, and he comes back to a place where that world does not exist, Vigeant said.

Vigeant called spousal care help for the "unidentified" people affected by the wars.

She is not alone. The President's Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors, co-chaired by former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, stated better veteran treatment for PTSD and better family support are needed.

Shirley and Vigeant decided to do something about it. Shirley, a recent University of South Carolina graduate in social work and psychology, decided to start a spousal support center. With Vigeant as the professional care giver, the nonprofit Military Spousal Support Center was hatched. It is envisioned as a place for spouses to seek help. There will be counseling on how to manage budgets and other services.

"We want it to be a quiet place of comfort," Vigeant said.

The center in Catawba is set to start operation Sept. 22. Shirley Miller and Vigeant plan to offer services every other Saturday, with hopes for more days afterward.

In York, Chester and Lancaster counties, hundreds of men and women in the National Guard and Reserves have gone to Iraq or Afghanistan. Some have gone to both.

All left behind families, then came back to those families. Now there are two ladies, a wife of a soldier and a nurse, who have created a new place to show those spouses that each is not alone.

The Military Spousal Support Center has a grand opening and open house scheduled for Sept. 15 from 4 to 6 p.m. Counseling service begins Sept. 22. It is a nonprofit located at the Theodore and Bertha Roddey Foundation, 4661 Catawba River Road, Catawba.

For more information, call 804-0481 or e-mail king9@comporium.net.