First Mondays

By The Institute for Child Development and Family Relations, Cal State San Bernardino

Helping our Military Families: Post-Deployment Concerns and Reintegration

on November 7, 2016

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In recognition of Veterans’ Day, this post is dedicated to military members and their families who face unique challenges. Imagine that you have received the good news that your family member is coming home from military deployment. Understandably, you couldn’t be more excited. It is a common feeling of jubilation that approximately 12,000 service members experience when they return to their families every year (Goldberg, 2014). It is an occasion to rejoice; however, post-deployment life isn’t without its difficulties. Often spouses and children face issues reconnecting to their deployed family member and integrating them back into their routines. Family members sometimes report feeling as if there is a stranger in their home. Addressing some of these common concerns before the deployed family member leaves and prior to his/her arrival back home can ease the anxieties associated with deployment (Military Families, 2011).imgres

The key for successful reintegration of a returning family member starts with planning for their extended absence (Chandra et al., 2011). Even though it is difficult to be separated from a loved one, proper preparation ensures that those left behind have the tools and the
skills to deal effectively with the challenges of separation. While a family member is deployed, the spouse often faces emotional, financial, mental, and other challenges related to long-term absences and difficulties adapting to the responsibilities of the deployed partner. The strain of taking on the partners’ responsibilities is often overwhelming for non-deployed family members until they are able to compensate for the difference.

Couples should plan for long and short-term issues in order to ease the difficulties; even having a test period before the deployment can be instructional. Resources that can assist the non-deployed spouse are often located at family readiness centers, which serve as clearing houses that provide telephone and in-person assessments to help determine needs and the right resources. Project FOCUS, Strong Families Strong Forces, ADAPT, images-4Passport to Success (PTS), and other programs assist family members through different stages: pre-deployment, deployment, and reintegration (Chandra et al., 2011). Upon being reunited, couples should discuss the status of important issues like bills, routines, and new household rules. It is important for both parties to communicate expectations of what responsibilities will shift back to the returning member and what duties will remain with the spouse. Jason Green, a married Coast Guard Reservist with two children commented on his experiences returning home from multiple deployments. In addition to communicating about family responsibilities, he points out the importance for couples to reconnect emotionally stating, “communication is also important to rekindle the romantic relationship.”

Some of the common concerns regarding children are dependent on their stage of development (Creech, Hadley, & Borsari, 2014). Children under the age of five often have difficulty remembering the deployed family member and, therefore, must be reintroduced. At this age, it is also common when a parent leaves or returns for children to exhibit behavior problems and act out more than usual. Between the ages of 6 and 12, anxiety issues are common, as the child fears for their parent’s safety (Military Families, images-22011). Girls tend to externalize their heightened level of anxiety when a family member leaves. The anxiety level is then subsequently reduced and internalized when the deployed family member returns home. Children commonly experience weakened social bonds, including issues with making and keeping friends. This is mitigated somewhat by the presence of other children who are in similar situations or have had similar experiences. Children between the ages of 11 and 18 typically have issues relating to school performance, social interactions, and they both internalize and externalize their symptoms. Oftentimes an older child will adopt some of the same traits as the parent who is not on deployment, even stepping into a parental role and managing the household. The mental health of adolescents is often directly related to the mental health of the remaining parent. If a parent demonstrates strong mental fortitude, it will reflect on the children and lead to better coping mechanisms (Creech et al., 2014).

Overall, the military family’s preparation and a willingness to adapt are the best processes for reintegration. For those experiencing challenges transitioning there is always time to improve the family dynamic. Checking with local family readiness centers in order to understand what resources are available is an important first step. Remember this is an occasion to rejoice, so be sure to make this process a smooth one, and that everyone is collectively working towards.

If you are in need of resources related to post-deployment reintegration, please reach out to any of the following sources.

Resources

Strong Families Strong Forces: http://www.bu.edu/sfsf/or call 617-358-5742

Veteran’s Center at California State University, San Bernardino: Veterans.csusb.edu Or call 909-537-5195

About the Author

William C. Lewis is employed as a Student Assistant with the Veterans Success Center at CSUSB, currently in his final year with the Criminal Justice program. As an Air Force ROTC cadet William is looking forward to a rewarding career with the U.S. Military and becoming a member of the national defense system as an officer

References

Chandra, A., Lara-Cinisomo, S., Jaycox, L., Tamielian, T., Han, B., Bruns, R., & Ruder, T. (2011) Views

from the homefront: The experiences of youth and spouses from military families. Center for Military Health Policy Research. Retrieved from http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/ technical_reports/2011/RAND_TR913.pdf

Creech, S., Hadley, W., & Borsari, B. (2014, December). The impact of military deployment and reintegration on children and parenting: A systematic review. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 45(6), 452-464. doi  10.1037/a0035055

Goldberg, M. (2014, December). Updated death and injury rates of U.S. military personnel during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan (CBO Working Paper 2014-08). Retrieved from https://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/113th-congress-2013-2014/workingpaper/49837-    Casualties_WorkingPaper-2014-08_1.pdf

How deployment stress affects children and families: Research findings. (n.d.). PTSD: National Center for PTSD. Retrieved from http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treatment/family/pro_deployment_stress_children.asp

Military families: Coming home. (2011, March). American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 89. Retrieved from http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF–   Guide/Coming-Home-Adjustments-For-Military-Families-089.aspx

Sogomonyan, F., & Cooper, J. (2010, May). Trauma faced by children of military families. National Center for Children in Poverty. Retrieved from http://www.nccp.org/publications/pub_938.html

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