More than 2.6 million of the Service members have deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation New Dawn. Of those, 40% have deployed multiple times.

By Ida Carruthers, FEPP HQ Reach

These deployments not only affect the Service members, but also their spouses/partners, children, parents, and extended families.  Most military personnel and their family members demonstrate resilience and adjust effectively to changes.

The University of Minnesota’s Military REACH team conducted comprehensive research on the reintegration experiences of Service members, military spouses, and military children.

The report examined experiences across six domains:  Mental Health, Social, Relationship, and Spiritual functioning, Physical Health and Financial well-being for the Service Member and Spouse/Partner.   For the children it organizes the experiences into Mental Health, Academic functioning, Family relationships, and Parenting.military-family-share-if-this-is-adorable

Below is a summary of some of the key findings of the report:

  1. Mental Health. As of 2011, 963,283 current and former Service members have been diagnosed with at least one psychological disorder, including general adjustment disorders, depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, and PTSD.
  • Service Member. Barriers to treatment:  inability or unwillingness to seek treatment.  Services members are concerned about the stigma associated with and negative affect of seeking therapy process.  Service Members access’ to services include work interference or insufficient time with and discomfort interacting with the mental health professional.
  • While reintegration stress can affect spouse mental health status, preexisting mental health issues also influence the degree of reintegration stress and coping mechanisms available to them.
  • Compared to military children whose parents did not deploy, children of deployed and combat-injured parents had more healthcare visits for mental health diagnoses during the reintegration period.  Furthermore, mental healthcare use during the reintegration period was higher for boys and children who had older, unmarried, or junior-enlisted parents.

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  1. Social Functioning. Social functioning refers to integration into broad social structures such as work and school.  Incongruities between military and civilian cultures can make such reintegration challenging for some Service members.
  • Service Member.  This cultural conflict can exacerbate Veterans’ adjustment difficulties and create difficulties when reintegrating into social roles, including as an employee in the workforce and as a student in higher education.  A qualitative study of nine National Guard and Reserve Veterans found that most transitioned successfully back into civilian work environments.
  • Military spouses play a number of roles in society and in the family, including as household managers, employees, students, and caregivers of injured military personnel.  Spouses’ experiences in these roles.  Some families experience a honeymoon period that lasts for four to six weeks after homecoming, the renegotiation of roles and routines is a dominant task.  By one year, families tend to re-stabilize as the ambiguity about household division of labor dissipates and couples relearn how to be interdependent.

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  1. Relationship functioning. Focuses primarily on interpersonal relationships
  • Service Member. Service members may experience challenges in readjusting to the roles of parent and spouse/partner.  Some experience difficulties relating to others and may experience an upsurge in interpersonal conflict to include marital conflict and dissolution, confiding and sharing personal thoughts, struggling to make new friends and keeping up with nonmilitary friendships.
  • While many marriages are strong, relationship problems remain a concern.   Research during reintegration phase has received considerable attention and most describe intimate and marital relationships, including topics such as marital quality and satisfaction, divorce, intimate partner violence, and intimate relationship in the presence of PTSD.
  • Having a parent return from deployment can create new stressors for children.  These stressors include reintegrating the parent into a changed family system and supporting children who have advanced through developmental phases while the Service member was deployed.  Almost half of the children studied worry about the next deployment.

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  1. Spiritual functioning. More than 90% Americans profess a belief in God, and over half say that religion is “very important” in their lives.  Religion can help people to make meaning of their lives and assist in coping with stress.  Religion has been liked to an increased sense of purpose, resilience, satisfaction, and happiness.
  • Service member. Some utilize chaplains to help examine spiritual issues.  Some studies show that coping skills were positively correlated with Christian religious affiliation and more frequent religious service attendance among deployed Service members in all branches.
  •   Few studies address the role of religion in helping spouses cope with their partner’ deployment(s).

 

  1. Physical health. Along with mental health and interpersonal issues, some Service members face physical health problems during reintegration.
  • Service member. Nearly 75% of 500,000 Veterans were found to be overweight or obese.  Persistent obesity among men was associated with PTSD, while women’s obesity was associated with depression.   Binge eating behaviors are associated with both depression and PTSD.
  • Sadly there are no peer-reviewed articles about the physical health of spouses during reintegration period.  However, one to two months after homecoming, 11% of Guard and Reserve members and their spouses cited problems related to health care and three to six months after homecoming, that number rose to 53-63% having difficulties with health insurance.

 

  1. Financial Well-being. Service members are generally paid more than employees in private sector with comparable education and experience and they may also benefit from financial bonuses associated with deployment, but many struggle with poor financial management and difficulty in securing employment following military service.
  • Service member.  7% of Service members reported money problems during the deployment phase and 12% reported money problems after returning home from deployment.  Financial assistance is available to Service members suffering from medial problems connected to their service.  Financial challenges faced by Veterans who have deployed highlight the potential usefulness of education and financial wellness programs.
  • Financial stress can contribute to the overall stress levels of military spouses.  The problems Guard and Reserve members and their spouses described included difficulty paying bills, lower household income after returning home and delays in military pay and travel reimbursement.

 

To see the recommendations to help solve these issues and the other issues facing children please go to:  https://reachmilitaryfamilies.umn.edu/research/document/8991.  Military REACH project is the result of a partnership funded by the Department of Defense between the Office of Family Readiness Policy and the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture through a grant/cooperative agreement with the University of Minnesota.