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New book details the challenges of resuming civilian life after combat tours

While serving in the U.S. Army and stationed in Iraq in October, 2003 Brian McGough was hit in the head by an IED (improvised explosive device), and shrapnel ripped through his scalp and skull. Awarded a Purple Heart, McGough was eventually released from Walter Reed and sent back to duty despite signs that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In her brutally honest memoir “Plenty of Time When We Get Home: Love and Recovery in the Aftermath of War,” McGough’s wife Sergeant Kayla Williams of the 101st Airborne Division – the couple met in Iraq – chronicles their own harrowing experiences and the challenges many servicemen and women face when they return stateside.

“After watching how much my husband had struggled with his recovery, as did so many of our friends and veterans coming home, and knowing that there can be a new normal – a very good and fulfilling life – I knew I had to write this book,” said Williams, who also published the 2006 bestseller “Love My Rifle More Than You.” “I wanted to share our journey, inspire people and give them hope while not shying away or sugar-coating how tough it can to get to that new normal. I also wanted to give civilians some deeper insight into what service members and veterans experience.”

Williams said the most common reaction she has received from civilian readers is shock over how few systems and services were in place for veterans returning to the homeland.

“People were surprised to hear how bad things were in the early days (of the Iraq War). A lot of improvements have been made, and part of our journey was to advocate and push for improvements in those services,” she explained, stressing the importance of reducing the social stigma associated with seeking help.

“People still think that saying they need assistance shows some sort of weakness or think nothing can be done. Or they fear doctors will try to shove all these medications down their throats and that isn’t what they want,” Williams continued. “But there are treatments that can really make a positive difference in helping you get through life.”

“Plenty of Time When We Get Home” also points to the emotional difficulties caregivers grapple with, which in her case was tending to her severely wounded husband.

“I always felt that I wasn’t allowed to be bitter or angry at my husband. He was a war hero how could I be angry? It took me a long time to accept that it is okay to feel a lot of those things,” she noted. “But you have to find appropriate ways to manage those feelings and find support when you can’t do it all on your own.”

As more and more troops come home from combat tours, Williams said it’s all too easy for the mainstream media to focus on sensational stories that cast veterans in a negative light, a perspective she hopes will change.

“I feel sometimes that when we are in uniform people think we are heroes and then when we take that uniform off, people think we are broken. If there is ever a tragedy that involves a veteran, there is this rush to put that in the headline like ‘Veteran Shooter in the Navy Yard!’ even when the military service is not connected in any way to what happened,” she said. “Yes coming home can be challenging and it is important to make sure the services are in place for those struggling, but we have to do it in a way that doesn’t make us seem as though we are all screwed up.”

“Plenty of Time When We Get Home” is now available on Amazon and an audio version on Audible.

Follow @holliesmckay on Twitter.

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