This Is What It's Like To Survive Domestic Violence In The Military

Abused military wives are often told to stay quiet about what happens at home. We talked to a dozen who feel they no longer can.

Illustration by Chad Wys

As part of HuffPost’s series “A Forgotten Crisis,” which examines domestic violence in the military, we interviewed many victims of abuse. We also asked readers to send us their personal stories. While their experiences occurred over decades, in different locations and across all branches of the military, many of the stories have similar themes.

HuffPost has not independently verified the details of all of their accounts, some of which contain descriptions of sexual and physical violence. All of the victims’ names have been changed to protect their safety and privacy. The accounts have also been lightly edited for brevity and to remove personally identifiable information. We have published these accounts in this form to show the variety, breadth and systemic nature of domestic violence.

The military has policies to address domestic violence. The Department of Defense says it works to “prevent and eliminate domestic abuse,” and to “provide for the safety of victims; hold abusers appropriately accountable for their behavior; and coordinate the response to domestic abuse with the local community,” according to a 2007 directive. But as the stories below suggest, the military still has a considerable distance to go in realizing those goals.

Here are the accounts of the victims, in their own words.

Blamed And Shamed

For two and a half years, I dated a combat-wounded Marine. He was discharged after an improvised explosive device blast left him with severe and chronic pain, a traumatic brain injury and PTSD with severe suicidal ideations. When he was angry, his favorite thing to tell me was “I’ve killed more people than you have years of life.”

The Marine Corps trains a person to kill without flinching, teaches them that the only heroes never come home and that their lives are nothing out of uniform. Yet, after stripping them of their humanity, it simply sends them home and expects them to function in society. When I tried to discuss violence with the VA, the abuse was minimized, blamed on PTSD, and I was constantly burdened with the responsibility of forcing him into help he did not want. Even mentioning treatment often turned him violent, yet ordering me to get him help was the only support I was offered by the VA.

The same sentiments were echoed in support groups for significant others of military service members. Military wives often shamed women for fleeing abuse. Eventually, I got a protection-from-abuse order from the civilian court system. That process was not without fault either, but in the end, the civilian court system gave me the support and validation I’d sought from the VA for two years.

―Frankie, 31

A Nightmare Overseas

In the late 1990s, my husband was in the Navy and we were stationed overseas with our young child. My husband’s tour of duty was for four years. I was there for 10 months before the nightmare started. He began pushing me around and being verbally abusive. I reported him to the command’s chaplain because I felt too intimidated to go to his command directly and felt that I could get better guidance from the chaplain.

The chaplain was kind and we had a few meetings in which we talked about my husband, his stress, my stress, my fears regarding our child’s welfare. He was helpful, but there was always the whisper amongst us wives that if we didn’t like being stationed overseas, we would be shipped back to the States, and in doing so, it would have an adverse reaction on our spouses’ careers. We were told that.

After I reported him, the shit hit the fan. My husband came home and stormed about our flat. I tried to stay out of his way, but he grabbed me and shouted in my face at the top of his lungs, “Do you know what you just did to me?! You fucked up my career!!” He gripped my upper arms so hard that he left bruises. He then pushed me to the floor. As I covered my head with my arms, waiting for the blows, he left. I called the chaplain, scared out of my wits. He said he would handle it.

After a week or so, my husband was ordered to go to counseling with me. The counselor was the worst counselor I’d ever been to. She told me in that office on base that I was making my husband’s stress worse and that I should go home. I was upset and told the chaplain, who by then was getting a lot of calls from me. I had to contact him because no one from my husband’s chain of command would speak to me.

I was made to feel like this was my fault. My family didn’t believe me. The Navy didn’t believe me. I carry that with me.

One night, my husband tried to kill me. He had a strange look on his face as he approached me in our flat. He said, “The only way you’re leaving here is in a body bag.” He held up a kitchen knife. The rest was a blur. I worked hard trying not to let him near me, running from room to room because the front door and the back doors were locked. I pulled furniture down behind me as I ran, swung at him as he tried to slash me repeatedly with the knife. Finally, I remember waking up on the floor in broken glass and being lifted up by some men. My husband was sitting on the floor holding his nose, blood spurting. He claimed that I assaulted him because his nose was broken in the struggle. He said that I was the one who tried to kill him. I denied it. I made his abuse known to his command. I loved my husband and wanted to save my marriage and the father of our child.

To make a long story short, I was shipped back to the U.S., where I filed for divorce. A week before our divorce was final, my husband killed himself. I never made peace with being let down by his command structure. I was made to feel like this was my fault. My family didn’t believe me. The Navy didn’t believe me. I carry that with me.

Jennifer, 49

‘Military Comes First, Mission Comes First’

My husband began to abuse me before he ever enlisted in the Air Force. He pushed me around, threw me down when he was mad, that sort of thing. He’d take away my phone, lock me out of the house and confiscate my car keys so I couldn’t go anywhere. I admit neither of us came from great upbringings, so we thought this was how you treat people.

After enlisting in the military, my husband was sent to his first duty station. I had to drop out of school and quit my job to move with him. Soon, I gave birth to our first child. But the abuse continued and, in a fit of rage, my husband slammed a door with my hand in it, on purpose.

I called the military police and they showed up, along with my husband’s chain of command, and sent us and our toddler to the Family Advocacy Program (FAP) office on base. I told them what happened and they tried to dissuade me from reporting. They said I had nothing: no job, nothing to fall back on, and that it wouldn’t look good to the courts. They wanted to know if I was ready to jeopardize his career. Then they asked my husband to come back into the room and for me to repeat my story with him there. When he came back in, I froze. I told them it was probably my fault … that I put my hand in the door when he was shutting it. I was terrified I was going to lose my child.

We returned home. No one from FAP ever followed up, and his abuse continued. It became more psychological and controlling — he didn’t want me talking to other people, wouldn’t let me get a job, and told me things like nobody’s going to let me have the kids if I left him.

We had two more children and were moved to a base overseas. I went to FAP for a referral to marriage counseling. The counselor on base said, “Well, military comes first, mission comes first, so whatever he needs to do to make sure he’s happy and healthy, that’s what needs to happen in a relationship.” It boosted my husband’s confidence that whatever he was doing was normal and OK.

The abuse at home has declined somewhat but it hasn’t stopped completely. The fact that my husband keeps two guns in the house makes me nervous.

That was the last time I asked for help for myself. It’s been almost 18 years of marriage now and we have three children. The abuse at home has declined somewhat but it hasn’t stopped completely. The fact that my husband keeps two guns in the house makes me nervous. I keep the ammunition in a safe place. I don’t think he’d ever hurt the kids, but I think if he was in a rage, I don’t think he’d think twice about hurting me.

– Ashley

Preferential Treatment

I met my boyfriend, a retired Air Force veteran who now works for the Department of Defense, online. I was attracted to him because he said, “I live my life by the Air Force Code of Honor” and I believed him. He was kind, compassionate, always giving me cards, sending me flowers, dinner dates and concerts. I was not prepared for the change that would come after moving in with him two years later. At six months, I would suffer my first physical attack.

After a particularly harrowing incident where he attempted to suffocate me with a pillow, I filed charges with the police department. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months in jail. But then the judge granted him work release. Every day, he leaves the jail and drives onto the base for work. To say this is disturbing would be putting it mildly. For me, it’s like being gaslighted by the DoD. It’s a tag team that shows no mercy, empathy or justice, nor an understanding of the traumatic impact of domestic violence.

It took a lot of courage for me to file charges with the police department. I have a protective order and I was granted a confidential address. My life was torn apart. For a time, I was isolated from my friends and family; when I told them about the abuse, they wondered how I could stay. People are uneducated about domestic abuse. I am putting the pieces back together, getting familiar with myself again.

The Department of Defense failed me. It has an ethical responsibility to educate commanders and hold employees that are found guilty of domestic violence in the legal system accountable for their actions. This is why women don’t leave.

― Velda, 57

A ‘One-Time’ Incident

I’ve been with my husband since high school. After we got married and he enlisted in the Air Force, he started making comments about my appearance, like, “Are you sure you want to wear that?” escalating up to “You can’t wear that, this is what you’re wearing so you don’t fuckin’ embarrass me.” He would demand I clean the house to his standards, calling me useless, asking me if I wanted to get hit.

He’d throw things around the house in anger, punch holes in the wall and even keyed my car. He’d start random fistfights with strangers when drunk and belligerent, which he often was. I called military police at least twice, and they came multiple other times after neighbors heard my screams from inside our house. But my husband never took their visits seriously. He said he knew they wouldn’t do anything because they didn’t do anything the last time. He thought he’d never face repercussions from the military because “they needed him at his job.”

Two years into the marriage, he pushed me down a flight of stairs and broke my ankle. When I went to the military hospital, the medical staff asked me if I was being abused at home, but my husband stood right next to me so I shook my head no. That same year, he got angry one night and punched a hole through the wall — through the drywall, through the insulation, through the other side of the wall — to get to the room I was in. I’m 100% sure he wanted to hurt me.

When I went to the military hospital, the medical staff asked me if I was being abused at home, but my husband stood right next to me so I shook my head no.

We lived outside of the base, so I called civilian police. My husband ran away before they arrived, but they contacted his command. Typically, the commander is the one to order a military protection order, but my husband’s Air Force base was more than two hours away and said they couldn’t help me unless I drove there in person. The base said they couldn’t help me because it wasn’t their jurisdiction.

I tried to get an order of protection the next day from the local magistrate’s office, but I was turned down — they said I needed to go to the military base. I left frustrated but decided to return two days later and replead my case. The civilian court granted me a temporary order of protection that lasted for two weeks.

I later learned my husband’s command interviewed him about the incident, though he claimed I was exaggerating. He escaped any ramifications. I was told that the commander determined it was a one-time incident and not domestic violence based on the fact that I wouldn’t drive to the base to tell my side of the story. I offered an over-the-phone interview that I was willing to have recorded but they were uninterested and never responded to that offer.

I felt isolated. My closest family was 12 hours away. I called the Family Advocacy Program on the base where my husband was stationed, but they told me they couldn’t help me unless I made the long drive to see them in person, which I couldn’t do because my husband had confiscated both of our vehicles.

As I waited for our divorce to be finalized, my estranged husband started stalking me everywhere I went. When I tried to report it, I was told by his commander and first sergeant that it was a civil matter and maybe we should “talk it out.” I decided to get my concealed carry permit and a gun. You’re on edge all the time. It’s just draining.

―Jane, 27

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My Soldier Needs Help

Before my husband came home from a six-month deployment to Iraq, his platoon captain’s wife told me and the other spouses that there might be “issues” within the first 30 days. This was normal, she said, and she would be here for them if we needed her.

He didn’t sleep when he got home, and the only thing that helped was to turn the TV to a blaring volume. He told me, “I’m used to all the bombs going off.” He was drinking heavily almost every day. Sometimes, he’d smoke marijuana.

I knew my husband had a temper, but this was different. One night, he just tore up the house. Our young children were asleep in nearby bedrooms. He was punching holes in all of the walls and I knew I was next when he backed me into a corner, screaming at me just inches from my face.

I ran and locked myself in our bedroom and called the MPs. He screamed through the wall at me that I was a cop-calling bitch. Then he tore the door off the hinges and grabbed me by my arm.

The MPs arrived and took my husband to the police station on base. His platoon sergeant later picked him up and brought him to his house for a “cooling off” period. But he was home the next night. I was scared shitless for him to come home. No charges were ever filed, and no one ever followed up with me.

When you’re a new spouse in the military, you aren’t supposed to be dramatic or create noise — it’ll look bad for your husband. You’re told not to talk about certain things. The repercussions of speaking up were well known: If you ruin your husband’s career, you won’t have money. It was a threat my husband used to prevent me from talking to anyone about the abuse.

My husband was honorably discharged from the military just shy of two years later. At this point, he was a raging alcoholic and regularly called me a cunt and a whore. I tried to get him help from the VA Clinic multiple times. He told them he had PTSD, but the VA rated him as showing 0% PTSD in their evaluation. They said his symptoms weren’t severe enough to warrant help.

While high on cocaine, my husband physically and sexually assaulted me for six hours straight. He strangled me and punched me in the face. I kept thinking about the loaded gun he kept in his car. 

If you ruin your husband’s career, you won’t have money. It was a threat my husband used to prevent me from talking to anyone about the abuse.

After he finally crashed, I ran out of the house with our daughter, drove as fast as I could to pick up our other two kids and drove cross-country to my parent’s house. This was the final straw. I couldn’t take it anymore. We split up.

Someone commented to me about not leaving my husband because he’s a solider. It doesn’t matter that he’s a soldier. The military failed him and the VA failed him. But the military failed me more. More recently, he walked into the VA clinic and they turned him away again. The next day he came back with a butter knife. A guard shot him in the chest, but he lived. He was trying to kill himself that day. He knew, going in there with a weapon, that he would be killed by the police.

— Cara, 32

Violent Dreams

My Marine Corps husband was deployed twice — in 2004 and 2006. While in combat, his truck hit an IED and was blown up. He can’t remember much from the incident but seemed to somehow walk away unscathed. Nobody thought to check for a concussion.

Ten years ago, post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, wasn’t a commonly used phrase. Instead, the Marine Corps asked us spouses to keep an eye out for signs of “combat stress,” like outbursts of anger. I noticed him being a little short and a little less patient when he returned home. And after that, the psychological abuse started.

He was really nasty and ugly to me and completely checked out with the kids — we have a blended family of four children. Then, he started drinking heavily and chatting online with other women. Even though things didn’t get physical, I often felt like I was in danger if I didn’t leave the house during his rants.

In 2012, I began waking up during the night to see him standing over me in bed. He had no recollection about it the next day, but he confessed he’d been having dreams of snapping my neck. He told me, “I’ve got to get out of that house before something bad happens.”

I called his staff sergeant who said, “Oh, I’ll just check on him tomorrow at work. He’s just under a lot of stress.” The next day, my husband told me his sergeant asked him, “What’s going on with you and your wife?” He also asked my husband if he was being emotionally abused at home. By me.

Nothing ever came of me reporting. From that day on, I felt blamed for not only the abuse but also for asking that my husband get help. I even found out his PTSD diagnosis was changed to “anxiety due to marital discord.” Even when my husband went in some time later and asked for help, they told him to just get a hobby.

He was honorably discharged in 2014 for reaching his service limits, but the abuse continued. In one incident, he barricaded me inside our house during a fight. Another time, he sat on me and refused to let me get up. He threatened to throw me out a window.

I blame his command for not getting him help. They would tell him, “Your wife is crazy, she’s trying to sabotage your career.” After his discharge, I tried to get him help at the VA hospital. I told a staffer about the abusive behavior and she asked me, “If it’s so bad, why do you stay with him?” They diagnosed him with PTSD and traumatic brain injury.

Six months ago, he moved out of our home and in with another woman. He refuses to talk to me. I feel like I’ve lost my husband.

― Amy, 46 

‘I Have A Gun And I’m Trained To Use It’

My Army ex-husband gets our children every other weekend and was recently awarded one night during the week with them, even though he has an over-10-year history of domestic abuse and suicide attempts. But civilian courts won’t even hear it because the military won’t release his records without his permission.

When we were still together, living on base, he would throw me on the ground, pull me by the hair, hit me in the face with doors and grab my upper arms and shake the living daylights out of me. During a period of eight months, MPs were called seven or eight times, either by myself or by neighbors. They’d ask me, “Have you been injured?” and I’d say no, at least not severely enough to require medical attention. So they never came.

What I wanted was someone of authority to run interference so he would stop and hopefully be forced to leave the house for a while. But they told me, “There’s nothing we can do for you.” At one point, the MP told me, “If you call us again, we’re arresting you both.” So I stopped calling.

At one point, my then-husband told our young children he was going to kill himself and it was all their fault. He grabbed two knives from our kitchen and left the house. I called the MPs, who said they couldn’t help me. “What do you want us to do? He probably left the base,” they asked me.

The following Monday, I marched into my husband’s commander’s office and begged him to help. He said, “We’re not going to order him to get help.” The only thing the commander said he could do was get an order of protection between my husband and the kids, but not for me. It was 90 days before he could come home again. And when he did, the physical abuse cooled off but the verbal abuse was daily. We were told to go into marriage counseling, but it made little difference. 

At one point, my then-husband told our young children he was going to kill himself and it was all their fault.

A few years later, my husband was medically retired from the Army, diagnosed with severe PTSD, and we moved. We tried to get him into counseling at the Veterans Affairs clinic but got the run-around. By the following year, I’d reached my limit and we separated. Then I got a call from a psychologist at the Veterans Affairs clinic. My husband had confessed that he was going to kill me. He told the psychologist that the night prior, he had a knife in his hand with the intent to murder me, but he couldn’t do it because I wasn’t sleeping and he didn’t want the kids to intervene.

The psychologist told me to get an order of protection and leave my house immediately. But when I went in front of a judge, he asked for proof of my husband’s confession. I tried to subpoena the VA and the female staffer in the VA’s medical records department laughed at me. She said, “You’re nuts, lady. You’ll never get it.” I was told I’d have to get a federal order since VA clinics don’t have to follow state laws, but I didn’t know how to do that and didn’t have any money to secure a lawyer since my husband controlled the finances.

I still haven’t been successful in getting any records from the VA clinic, but thankfully, the guardian ad litem appointed to our children decided visitation would be at my discretion. Still, I have a gun and I’m trained to use it just in case. I’m terrified every day.

— Gabby, 35

A Mass Shooter In The Making

A month into our marriage and only a few days after we lost our first baby, my Air Force husband attacked me. He was just sitting on a couch watching a video when I asked him to help me with something. He was completely zoned out, so I asked again. That’s when he jumped up, grabbed me, threw me on a nearby bed and punched me in the stomach where my surgical incision was still healing. I screamed and then saw his arm go limp. He got up and went right back to the couch and started watching his video again.

I called his first sergeant for help, and he responded, “You’re ruining my night.” He said he’d now have to wake up his young son and come over to “deal with this.” I instantly regretted calling.

Military police and paramedics showed up, but they began to question me. My husband went to the room next door, where his father was staying. I was begging police to go see him. I said he needed a psych evaluation. I work as a psychiatric nurse, but they wouldn’t listen. Instead, military police began asking me if I was under the influence. Of course, I wasn’t. The first sergeant issued a no-contact order. It was against me. I had to get a hotel room for me and my mom. I was so overwhelmed, I couldn’t even process what was happening.

Every single person I talked to in the military told me he’s fine and I was the one who needed help.

The next day, I contacted the first sergeant again and asked him to help my husband. I had just lost my son, I didn’t want to lose him, too. He came to talk to me, but ultimately said, “Leave your career out of this and just be his wife.” I tried to get help from the Family Advocacy Program on base, but they refused to help me unless I came in and filed a report. I tried to explain I’d already filed a report with military police. I didn’t understand what they were talking about. I’d only been a military spouse for a month. I did finally go in for what I thought was therapy for me but it was an intake with a large male Air Force officer. There was no clear explanation of what was going on and I was petrified.

Once the no contact order was lifted, my husband came home and he made my life a living hell. He blamed me for the death of our son. He left a hole in the wall after he punched it in anger. He began spending money from accounts I didn’t even know we had. And then he started threatening suicide. I reported those threats to the command, but every single person I talked to in the military told me he’s fine and I was the one who needed help. I believe my husband was telling people I suffered from depression after our son’s death.

Eventually, I filed for divorce, which was, again, pure hell. My husband is still active-duty, and I’m worried about him. Every time I hear about one of these mass shootings, I look to see who it is. The impulsivity and the anger that would come through him … it’s just very scary. It would not shock me if he did something like that.

– Jamie, 30

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A Protection Order Rescinded

A lot of people think that just because you’re married, you don’t have to ask permission, but you do. I filed a report against my Naval husband after he repeatedly raped me during our 14-year marriage. When he reported to work, he was stopped by military police who searched his vehicle, read him his rights and informed him he was being investigated for domestic violence and sexual assault. He was moved to the barracks on base and the military filed for a protection order on my behalf. He was very volatile.

Up to this point, the military had seemingly done all the right things ... until my husband violated the restraining order five consecutive times. He came back to the house. He stalked me on Facebook. He contacted my parents and started sending threatening text messages. The protection order was rescinded by his command soon after, and I never knew why.

I was able to get an order of protection from a civilian court. When my husband showed up at the court hearing, he confirmed to the judge that his command would not be reprimanding him for either domestic violence or sexual assault. They didn’t recognize my claims of abuse as valid. Luckily, the judge granted me the order of protection.

It’s disgusting. Especially being in the military myself and knowing how much training we get and how much they pound that into you — the sexual assault aspect and how to respond to it. They have put all these things in place to help victims, and yet here I am and see none of those things.

My now-ex-husband still has access to our children, even though I have sole custody. If he asks to see the kids, I have to allow it. Luckily, he’s only asked once. I have no doubt he could get pissed off enough to harm us. He owns several guns. I’m afraid he’ll get drunk and think that he has absolutely nothing to lose.

— Beverly, 35 

Kicked Off Base

My Army husband and I had been married for eight years and shared four children when he tried to kill me. He’d been abusive since I’d met him — it started with name-calling, degrading comments, loudly ogling other women in public to let me know they were better than I was —I used to hyperventilate and start crying when we walked out in public because I knew what was coming.

Of course, things escalated. He’d throw me around when he was mad at me, one time throwing me into our washing machine so hard I severely injured my hand. Another time, he threw me off the bed so violently it caused me to miscarry my pregnancy. He’d strangled me twice, telling me he wanted to kill me.

I reported the abuse to the Army several times while we were stationed overseas. There were never any repercussions. The way the military does it is they take the soldier to the MP station and basically wait for the unit to pick them up. Then they’ll do a 72-hour hold in the barracks or keep them in barracks until they cool down.

On that night in 2016, I asked my husband about illicit text messages I’d found on his phone from another woman, and he snapped. He threw me onto the bed and put the sheet over my mouth and nose. I was struggling to breathe while he smothered me. I don’t know how I ended up on the floor — maybe I passed out for a moment — but the next thing I remember is my husband behind me, pressing his hands into my mouth and nose in an attempt to suffocate me again. I remember thinking, I’m going to die.

I got my hands behind me and gouged a finger into my husband’s eye, but it just pissed him off and he squeezed even harder. Then I felt one of his fingers in my mouth and I bit down as hard as I could. He finally let go. But he wasn’t done.

He came behind me and started beating me on the back of my head relentlessly. Then, out of nowhere, he just stopped. He sat on the bed and said, “Let’s talk about this.” I ran to another part of the house and called the MPs and told them my husband had attacked me. He calmly went to the porch outside and sat down while I ran to ask a neighbor to come watch our kids.

When the MPs showed up, they asked me what I wanted to do. They didn’t seem concerned. They didn’t ask for my story. I said, “I think I need to go to the hospital. Call an ambulance for me.” At the hospital, I was treated for suffocation and other injuries, like welts on the back of my head from where he had punched me. An advocate from FAP showed up and told me I could get an order of protection, but I knew it would only protect me on base so I decided to go to the civilian court to get one. She ended up accompanying me. 

When the MPs showed up, they asked me what I wanted to do. They didn’t seem concerned. They didn’t ask for my story.

The next day, with my husband being held in the barracks, I called the MPs and told them no one had taken my statement yet, so they asked me to come to their office to give one. I never heard anything back after that.

The next time I heard from my husband’s commander, it was to inform me that my children and I were being evicted. We had one month to move out. Because my husband is my sponsor, it’s his home, not mine. I was freaking out. I pleaded with his commander for an extension. I said, “I don’t have any money. I don’t have a job.”

I also found out my husband had taken all the money out of our joint bank account. With just $1,600 to my name, I was on the verge of being homeless with my four children. I started calling homeless shelters, but there was nothing for a mother with children nearby. I looked for work every day until I was hired as an assistant manager at a fast-food restaurant.

Then I found out I was pregnant. I had to give him up for adoption.

My husband’s command ended up charging him with assault consummated by battery, but he received no disciplinary action. I was told by a lawyer on base that they wouldn’t be able to court-martial my husband because there were no witnesses, “so there wasn’t enough evidence to support beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The “best” they could do, I was told, was bring him before a separation board. When my husband’s commander testified that I had never reported any abuse, I began to cry. A year before my husband tried to kill me, I had reported an abusive incident to the same commander who wanted to kick my husband out at that time for unrelated reasons. I ended up asking them not [to] release my husband from the military, afraid of what would happen if he lost his job and our only source of income. This man was lying under oath.

The nurse and paramedic who treated me the night after his assault testified on my behalf to the injuries they saw, but I was never allowed to speak. The board found my husband guilty of domestic violence and he was given an honorable discharge, allowing him to collect military benefits and be unobstructed in getting a gun in the civilian world. I’m just waiting for the day when he’s had enough of me.

– Christina, 36

Not Held Accountable

My husband was a combat instructor with the Marine Corps. We were married 10 years. There were all types of abuse — my husband was very skilled at not actually hitting me, but smashing a glass picture frame so I would be covered in glass or throwing things at a wall near me.

When we moved near a base, that’s when the physical violence started. One day, he kicked in the bathroom door during a fight when I was trying to get away from him, ripped down the shower curtain and hit me with the curtain rod. I called the civilian police, but pretty much every single sheriff was a prior Marine. They told my husband, “You don’t want us to have to contact your supervisor, just go cool off.”

I made a restricted report with the Family Advocacy Program — I wanted help, but I didn’t want to ruin his career. I was in graduate school working on my master’s degree and working as a waitress. There was no way we would have been able to afford him getting kicked out of the military.

We had a daughter, and a year later, he ended up in involuntary psychiatric treatment for a mental health issue that preexisted his enlistment. We were doing the meds roller coaster. I really thought he would try to get better, but he didn’t.

I lived with someone who threatened my life multiple times a day, whether it was taking a butcher knife off the counter and touching the tip of it with his finger and waving it at me, or breaking things or holding our child and keeping her away from me ... it was terrifying. He used to say he could make us disappear in the middle of the night and no one would ever find us. His favorite class to teach was combat hunter, basically how to hunt people.

There’s a very high likelihood you’ll be writing a story about us someday.

There was an altercation while our young child was at home. He’d just had surgery and we were fighting because I had told him to rest and he was just raging angry. He picked up a pair of scissors and made a stabbing gesture like he was going to stab himself, but instead, he charged at me. I ran down the hallway and grabbed my daughter, jumped into the car and went to a Target parking lot down the road before I called his platoon leader. I was crying so hard I didn’t know how to get the words out. I just said there’s something wrong with him. The sheriffs were called and my husband answered the door holding a butcher knife. They turned him over to his gunnery sergeant and wound up in a psychiatric inpatient unit.

He was never formally charged with anything but the IDC, or incident determination committee, determined domestic abuse claims were substantiated. He received treatment and they wanted me to be his caregiver, but I refused. My daughter and I moved away. My husband wasn’t supposed to leave but he did anyway, coming home on the weekends. The verbal and psychological abuse continued; our dog took the brunt of his physical abuse.

He was medically retired a year later and said things would be better once he came home, but he was abusing his prescription drugs as well as alcohol. I filed for divorce. It’s been almost four years and I still haven’t been granted a divorce. I’ve been through hell and back. He follows us and takes pictures of us. He showed up unannounced at her elementary school and they had to call the police. He continues to terrorize us.

I have a concealed carry permit and have a pistol on me at all times. He’s not allowed to see our daughter unless it’s a supervised visit in a secure facility, which he refuses to do. Yet he works as a volunteer firefighter. It’s because the systems aren’t connected. He’s just able to lie and pretend like nothing ever happened while he was in the military. There’s a very high likelihood you’ll be writing a story about us someday ... he shouldn’t have firearms.

– Kate, 34

This story is part of “A Forgotten Crisis,” a series on domestic violence in the military.

Are you a military spouse experiencing abuse? There are places you can turn for help. Find your local Family Advocacy Program by visiting militaryonesource.mil, reach out to HealingHousehold6.org for military-specific support in times of family crisis, or speak to a trained domestic violence advocate in your area or locate the nearest domestic violence shelter by visiting DomesticShelters.org. You can also speak to a supportive advocate at the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.