Nominations are closed. Come back February 3 to meet the candidates!

Deena Sapp

Branch: Army

Duty Station: Fort Drum

Number of Deployments: 1

Number of PCS's: 2

Share your military spouse story:
I am an active-duty Army Wife to an amazing husband who is currently stationed overseas for 12 months. In his absence, I am a full-time mommy to a fiercely vibrant, free spirited, and brilliant 2-year-old girl, Aribella (our rainbow baby), who is the joy of our world. Our journey as a military family has been one of resilience and adaptation, like most. In our 6 years together, we have weathered the storms of life in losing our son, Jackson, living and working in two different counties, all while meeting the demands of military life with trainings, deployment, various assignments, and now the unaccompanied PCS. With the start of the pandemic, our family was faced with the decisions most families faced- how do we protect our family and continue doing the work that is so important to each of us? In that time, we made the decision that I needed to transfer my position at work to the closest city to post and I needed to work from home full-time to keep our daughter as safe as possible, given the grief we had already endured so deeply. Navigating in-home child-care and the growing needs of our family, while working as a full-time therapist, and continuing my studies as a PhD candidate were, and continue to be, non-negotiables for me. I like to think finding a way to balance it all and to do all of it well, is my superpower! By the grace of God, of course. Supporting my husband in his role as an NCO overseas is the easiest part of what I do on a daily basis. Doing life with my best friend every day is my favorite part of this journey, no matter which continents we occupy at any given time! He is, no doubt, our family’s hero.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
In my PhD studies, I have chosen a specialty in couples’ therapy with Military families. My greatest avenue for leadership is by way of advancing the field of Marriage and Family Therapy and mental health treatments for the Military population. In my 19 years as a therapist, I have spent the past 8 treating this population. I have taken a particular interest in improving Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) treatment efficacy by completing research around the concept of Moral Injury. I am dedicating my research to provide a deeper understanding of how treating Moral Injury along with PTSD will benefit the Military family in their readjustment.

Describe your involvement in the military community:
I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist to the Military and Veteran population. My scope of practice is focused on couples' therapy navigating the unique challenges of Military life, readjustment after multiple service-related separations, and the process of understanding PTSD and its impact on relationship dynamics. I specialize in treating trauma with Service Members and Veterans who have endured various traumas including, but not limited to, combat exposure and military sexual trauma. It is my life's calling to serve those who have served and to serve the ones who support them.

Describe how you support your community:
I have run several groups tailored to the Military population and the challenges that are unique to their relationships. I am a relationship therapist at heart. I believe that the best way to support the Service Member is through supporting those with whom they are intimately connected. Currently, I facilitate a Healthy Relationships group, designed to create a safe space for Service Members to discuss the ups and downs, the challenges they face in relationships with family/friends/coworkers/etc, establishing healthy boundaries and dynamics while managing the symptoms of chronic PTSD. Additionally, I run a group for spouses/partners of any Service Member or Veteran who has been diagnosed with PTSD. The goal of this group is to provide psycho-education to spouses/partners about PTSD while giving them a space to connect with others facing similar challenges and create a network of support that is so crucial to any healing process.

What do you advocate for? Why?
Simply put, I advocate for mental wellness through healthy relationships. I believe that relationships and connections are integral in fostering healing. In order for people to create healthy relationships and to contribute to them in a healthy manner, they need effective coping skills, effective communication skills, an understanding of what has shaped who they are in relationships, and a vision for how to create what they desire in relationships. I have dedicated my life to nurturing this ability in people and for the past 8 years, I have focused specifically on nurturing this within the Military community.

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
I use my community relationships with other Military/Veteran agencies as a primary platform for getting resources to the Military community. I have had a significant presence at Yellow Ribbon events, Female Service Member/Veteran events, and provided numerous briefings to the Military population regarding PTSD and relationship health with the goal of increasing awareness of mental health resources and education around creating healthy relationships.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
I hope to continue doing what I do daily, but on a much larger scale. My goal is to have an impact on increasing effective mental health treatment for those managing PTSD and recovering from Moral Injury, while creating larger discussions about how to create healthy relationship dynamics within the Military population with their partners and families.

Nominations

Deena Sapp is Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, full time mom and PhD student. Her professional work is concentrated on the focus of veterans and their families. I first met Deena about six years ago while accompanying a veteran to a therapy appointment. This is when I witnessed her very special qualities that set her above the rest. The compassion and authentic connection creates a safe space for real topics and healing. Covid 19 created a set of challenges she met with perseverance and persistence. Her continual support for her "military family" empowers those around her to do better and be better. Deena's love for her family has inspired those she advocates for to reflect on how they can be resilient in challenging times.
- by Cindy Meili