Eric Mansfield and Wife Lisa Speak on Mental Health of Returning Veterans and Their Families

October 10, 2008

Eric Mansfield, WKYC Channel 3’s Akron-Canton Bureau chief, and his wife Lisa presented the Mental Health Awareness Lecture in the Hoover-Price Campus Center at Mount Union College on October 8, 2008.

Eric, who reports daily from WKYC’s Akron Broadcast Center, spent 14 months on active duty in 2003-04 in Iraq and Kuwait as a major in the Ohio National Guard.

Eric and Lisa met in elementary school and have been together since high school.  Although they had experienced a long distance relationship in college, many adjustments needed to be made when Eric was deployed.   

Lisa and their three young sons, who at the time were ages 8, 5, and 18 months, had to adjust to the financial, physical and emotional stress they experienced while Eric was overseas.   
After coming back from the war, Eric explained he returned as a changed person and found his family and friends to be changed as well.  These changes can affect the returning veterans in different ways.

According to Mansfield, it takes about six to nine months to feel normal emotionally.  “We go from the war to our living rooms in about six days—that’s all the transition we had and it’s not easy,” said Eric.  Some of his friends found themselves losing their relationships and jobs when they came back.

Before Lisa came up to speak, Eric said that upon returning, “You are not the same people, and it’s not the same marriage, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be successful.”

Lisa explained that as a spouse of someone serving in the military, you constantly feel that you are either counting up or down to something.  

One of the most important pieces of advice she would give to a spouse in her position is to get to know the spouses of other men and women who are overseas.  Learning to accept help from those who offer also was an adjustment she had to make.  She explained, “If you know someone whose spouse is overseas, tell them you are going to help them, don’t ask.  Call them and tell them you are going to bring dinner or watch the kids the next week, then ask them which day is best.  Those offers cannot be turned down and help a great deal.”  

She also thinks it is important to know that things will not go back to “the old normal.”  Communication and briefing become necessary for each spouse to understand the other’s changes.

Eric told the audience that while his two older sons adjusted well to his return, it took his youngest son a whole year before he told him he loved him.  He explained that his sons’ experiences while he was away are a part of who they are.

When talking about his return to work, he stated that many people are afraid to ask or don’t know how to ask about his experience.  After a while, he became quiet about it and other people were not sure if he had changed or was just having a bad day.

According to Eric, after being deployed, he and his fellow soldiers were so focused on doing their jobs, they did not have time to formulate how they felt about what they were doing.  He compared it to being a police officer and following a suspect you are not sure is guilty or innocent.  In the moment, he said, “You just know you swore an oath, you’re in the middle, and you don’t know yet if you are in it for the right or wrong reasons.”  Since Eric left during the invasion year he explained that the opinions of the men and women leaving now may be different since they have had time to create opinions in this context.   

Eric ended by suggesting that we should not believe that returning veterans do not want to talk about it, it is just so hard to explain if you have no concept of what it is like over there.  Lisa said, “I found that I learned so much more by listening to his stories rather than asking him questions,” she said.   

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