Memorial Day Reflections: A Combat Veteran’s Personal Story and Tips for Prioritizing Mental Health| EU22314 min read

May 24, 2024

Memorial Day specifically honors those who have fallen in service.

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Memorial Day isn’t just about BBQs and an extra day off; it’s a meaningful federal holiday where we pause to honor the brave souls who gave everything for our country. In this podcast episode, I am so excited to have Willie, my veteran husband, on the podcast. Join us as we talk about what Memorial Day really means and why taking care of our veterans’ mental health is so important. Willie shares some tips and tricks that helped him along his journey after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, including his recovery from near-death experiences.

People often mistakenly thank living veterans on this day, but it’s crucial to understand and educate others about its true purpose. Memorial Day specifically honors those who have fallen in service.

“What is Memorial Day? Well, a lot of people during this time frame, they’ll say: ‘Thank you to our veterans.’ ‘Thank you for your sacrifices.’ ‘Thank you for your service.’ And there are veterans out there who will hear this and get very defensive, VERY angry, and they’re like: ‘it’s not for me.’ ‘It’s not for the ones that are still living.’ ‘It’s for my fellow brothers and sisters who died and who paid the ultimate sacrifice.’ ‘It’s not for us.’

Don’t be an asshole. Don’t be one of the ones who do that. Just say thank you. Educate them. Educate the individuals who don’t know and aren’t aware. If I hear that, I use it as an opportunity to teach. So do the same.” (Willie Cisneros)


  • Memorial Day is a time to reflect on the sacrifices made by military personnel and pay tribute to their bravery and dedication.
  • Mental health issues are common among veterans, and finding the right mental health provider is crucial for effective treatment.
  • Effective stress management tools include mindfulness, meditation, physical activity, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
  • Military families face unique stressors, and mental health issues can exacerbate these challenges.
  • Support and resources, such as therapy and community organizations, are available to help military families navigate these difficulties.

Memorial Day goes beyond just another long weekend; it’s essential to take a moment to pause and reflect on the freedoms we enjoy, made possible by the bravery and selflessness of these fallen heroes. Their sacrifices, often made far from home and loved ones, deserve our utmost respect and gratitude.

Visiting local National Cemeteries and participating in activities like placing flags on graves are meaningful ways to pay tribute to these heroes. Additionally, taking the time to learn about the lives of those who have given everything for their country helps ensure that their legacies are not forgotten. Through stories and shared memories, we keep their spirit alive and honor their contributions to our nation’s history.

“For some, like myself, Memorial Day is a remembrance of an alive day. What’s an alive day? It’s the anniversary of a day that a veteran almost died in combat. Or the day that they survived a near-death event that had a major impact on their life. For me, my alive days are November 23rd, 2011 and February 3rd, 2012. Those are days that I was hit by an IED in Afghanistan, conducting combat operations. I came back and things just weren’t the same. Re-adaptation into society was different. It was tough.” (Willie Cisneros)

Supporting Mental Health: A Crucial Endeavor

May is also Mental Health Awareness Month, making it the perfect time to discuss the impact of mental health on military families. The sacrifices made by military personnel can have lasting effects on their mental well-being and that of their families. Willie shared his own challenging journey, bouncing between 11 different mental health providers over seven years before finding the right support. This underscores the importance of raising awareness about mental health issues within the military community and ensuring that adequate resources are available to those who need them.

The Challenges Faced by Military Families

Military families face unique stressors, especially during and after deployments. The constant worry for their loved ones’ safety and the challenges of reintegrating into civilian life can lead to significant mental health issues. Untreated problems can escalate to anxiety, depression, and even suicide, emphasizing the need for effective stress management tools. Moreover, the transient nature of military life, with frequent moves and deployments, can disrupt access to consistent mental health care. Recognizing these challenges is the first step towards implementing supportive measures that address the specific needs of military families.

“I know for my wife, she knew the days that something happened to me. She knew the days that we lost somebody. She could see it all over my face. And those were tough conversations. I still can remember to this day, you know, what that was like, where I was at. Understand that the veterans who were out there who did survive those times, had their own sacrifices as well. They had their sacrifices back at home. You had your sacrifices away from your family.

And so it’s a unique situation that only military families often understand. These challenges can be exacerbated by mental health issues, especially if those that are untreated. They can lead to issues like anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders.” (Willie Cisneros)

Encouraging Veterans to Seek Help

It’s not just about the families, though. Veterans themselves also need to recognize the importance of seeking mental health help when needed. The traumas of war can linger long after they return home, affecting their daily lives and relationships. Seeking support is not a sign of weakness but a crucial step towards healing and recovery. However, stigma and misconceptions surrounding mental health care within the military community can act as barriers to seeking help. Encouraging open conversations and fostering a culture of support and understanding are essential in breaking down these barriers and promoting help-seeking behaviors among veterans.

“At some point, you gotta get control and you have to learn to move on. Find coping skills, find tools, talk to a professional and see what you can do to get yourself some help. Mental Health Awareness Month is an opportune time to discuss the rising mental health issues in our society.” (Willie Cisneros)

Effective Stress Management Strategies

Managing stress is crucial for maintaining mental health. Strategies like mindfulness and meditation, regular physical activity, therapy, and community support can all make a difference. Willie shared his personal experiences with mental health, highlighting the importance of seeking help and finding the right support system. Additionally, fostering resilience and coping skills can empower military families to navigate the challenges they face more effectively. By equipping individuals with the tools and resources they need to manage stress and build mental strength, we can promote overall well-being within the military community.

“Many times I’ve had to go to places with my kids, and do things that made me feel uncomfortable. And I had to remind myself like, I’m not over there anymore. I’m no longer in harm’s way. This is a safe space. This is a safe area.

Am I hyper vigilant? 100%. Am I always looking at exits? Am I always looking at people and casing them, casing the area? Yes. Still to this day. And it’s probably never going to stop. And that’s just because of some of the things that have been ingrained in me for so long.” (Willie Cisneros)

Establishing Trust with a Mental Health Clinician

Trust management in therapy is crucial, especially for veterans seeking mental health support. Veterans often have unique and complex experiences that require a clinician who can understand and relate to their specific needs. The failure in trust management stems from a gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application in the field. Veterans need therapists who can establish a genuine connection, empathize with their experiences, and build a trustworthy relationship. This trust is fundamental for effective therapy, as it allows veterans to open up and share their vulnerabilities, which is essential for healing.

“I know for myself, I was very guarded. I didn’t want to open up at all. And it was almost like I was interviewing them as well. And I was only giving them bits and pieces and not really opening myself up. Didn’t really open up myself to vulnerability. I didn’t want to expose those wounds again, but at the same time too, I was also kind of sizing them up. Are you good enough to be able to talk to me? Can you handle the things that I want to be; that I want to handle? And am I going to be able to be the one that’s in control of my sessions instead of you telling me what we’re going to talk about and how we’re going to talk about it?

So, I found myself being the one that was in control of many of the sessions. And so I terminated my sessions with clinicians because I didn’t find them to be strong enough to be able to control everything, control my plan and how we’re going to continue.” (Willie Cisneros)

Willie highlights the importance of veterans feeling safe and in control during therapy sessions. She shares her personal experience of being guarded and cautious with therapists, only sharing bits and pieces of her story until she felt confident in their capability. Veterans may test their clinicians to determine if they are competent and trustworthy enough to handle their complex issues. This cautious approach underscores the need for therapists to prove their reliability and strength, ensuring that veterans feel secure and respected in the therapeutic environment. Without this trust, veterans are likely to terminate sessions, feeling that their needs are not adequately met.

Finding effective stress outlets and management strategies is also crucial for veterans. Cisneros suggests practical methods such as taking time out, connecting with nature, and practicing mindfulness techniques like box breathing. These strategies help veterans manage their mental health outside of therapy sessions and maintain a balanced state of mind. It’s important for veterans to find non-harmful activities that promote relaxation and emotional stability, reinforcing the need for a holistic approach to mental health care. Establishing trust with a therapist and having reliable coping mechanisms can significantly improve a veteran’s mental well-being, making the therapeutic journey more successful.

Finding Stress Outlets & Staying Away from Harmful Substances

Veterans make immense sacrifices, including enduring the loss of comrades and the intense stress of combat, which deeply affects their mental health. These experiences create unique challenges for veterans and their families, who often live with constant worry and the emotional toll of deployments. For veterans, the trauma and memories of lost comrades can be overwhelming, leading some to seek relief through substances like alcohol or drugs. However, these substances only mask the deeper issues, providing temporary relief while ultimately causing more harm. Dependence on these substances can lead to addiction, further complicating the veteran’s life and impacting their families through a domino effect of negative consequences.

“I tell you that those things are, they’re only masking agents. They’re only band -aids to a really bigger underlying issue. And they can be toxic at times, especially if you become dependent on it and then you become addicted to it. And then eventually later on, it’s a full dependency and it affects families. It affects everything else. It’s a big domino effect. So, learn to find other ways to be able to help yourself.” (Willie Cisneros)

Given these profound sacrifices and the ongoing struggle with mental health, it is crucial for veterans to avoid harmful substances and seek healthier coping mechanisms. Effective strategies such as breathing exercises, mindfulness, music, or taking walks can help manage stress and maintain mental balance. These non-harmful methods promote long-term well-being without the risks associated with substance abuse. Veterans must recognize the importance of staying away from drugs and alcohol, as addiction not only hinders their own recovery but also impacts their families, perpetuating a cycle of distress. Prioritizing healthy coping strategies honors the sacrifices made and supports a more stable and fulfilling post-service life.

“Practicing mindfulness and meditation can help reduce stress and it can improve your mental clarity. Apps like Headspace and Calm, the Calm app, offer guided sessions that are tailored towards various needs. Physical activity. 30 minutes a day can do wonders to improve your overall health.

And for men, it also extends on the sexual side. It’s good for you. And it’s proven that 30 minutes of exercise per day can reverse things if you are having mental health issues that are affecting, you know, time in the bedroom.

It’s also a way to help you reduce stress and improve your mood. Find an activity that you enjoy, whether it’s running, yoga, dancing, whatever the heck it is. For me, when I retired, it was jujitsu, kickboxing, boxing, combat sports, things like that. Going to the gym, those were some of the things that I enjoyed when I first got out. Golfing maybe. Mountain bike riding. Those are still some of the things I like doing

Hiking. I know it’s weird. I graduated or graduated got out of the out of the military after 20 years of service in the United States Marine Corps and I thought I would I was going to hate going on hikes and I actually love them now that it’s on my own terms. Therapy and counseling. That’s another tool that’s out there.” (Willie Cisneros)

Getting enough sleep is super important for veterans working on their mental health recovery. When you’re not sleeping well, it can mess with your insulin levels, make you gain weight, and leave you feeling sluggish and out of shape. For veterans, who often deal with a lot of stress and tough memories, sleep is crucial for recharging both physically and mentally. It helps you process emotions, reduces stress, and boosts your mood, all of which are key for mental health. So, making sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating well, and staying active can really make a difference. It’s all about taking care of yourself so you can handle the challenges and feel better overall.

Conclusion: Supporting Veterans and Families

In conclusion, Memorial Day is a time to honor the fallen and reflect on the ongoing challenges faced by military families, particularly regarding mental health. By understanding its true meaning and implementing effective stress management strategies, we can better support our veterans and their families. Remember, mental health is just as important as physical health, and there are resources available to help navigate these challenges. Together, let’s honor the sacrifices of our service members and ensure that they receive the support and care they deserve.

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Meet Veronica Cisneros

As a leading authority in women’s empowerment and a fierce advocate for building strong networks, Veronica is your go-to guru for turning fears into victories, struggles into strengths, and doubts into boundless opportunities.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist for 10 plus years; empowering high-achieving women in business to conquer both professional heights and personal fulfillment. She doesn’t do bandaids!
Veronica has a unique approach to overcoming obstacles and smashing through the glass ceilings that loom over ambitious women. With her arsenal of practical tools, actionable strategies, and unwavering support, Veronica doesn’t just help women succeed in their careers – she helps them thrive in every facet of their lives.

But Veronica’s expertise isn’t just theoretical – it’s personal. With over 24 years of marriage, three daughters, and a soaring career, Veronica embodies the resilience and determination needed to navigate life’s challenges. As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Group Private Practice Owner, of Outside The Norm Counseling, Marriage Coach, and the voice behind the Empowered and Unapologetic podcast, Veronica effortlessly guides women to challenge themselves beyond their comfort zones.

Veronica is more than an expert – she’s a partner in transformation, turning mundane relationships into true connections. With her relatable charm and infectious humor, Veronica illuminates the path for women who refuse to settle for anything less than success in both business and relationships. Through practical tips, heartfelt anecdotes, and her trademark wit, Veronica empowers every woman to cultivate unbreakable bonds without sacrificing their ambitions.

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I’m Veronica, your new Boss MOM Mentor with no filter and no BS. 

I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist, women’s coach, course creator, and retreat host. Married for OVER 20 years, raising three girls, and the host of the Empowered and Unapologetic podcast. 

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My jam? Helping high-achieving women thrive both at home and in the hustle of work.

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