Monthly Archives: November, 2015

Soul Care Conversation (Transition and Re-integration Challenges – Experienced by the Spouse)

November 25th, 2015 Posted by Blog 3 comments

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversations is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)

Last week we focused our conversation on the challenges of reintegration and transition for the veteran. This week, we will discuss specifically the challenges experienced by the spouse.

THE EXPERIENCE OF REINTEGRATION

As we explored last week, the post-deployment experience is an important stage for the returning warrior. But it has just as important implications for the stay-at-home spouse. There are several key factors to be considered;

  • understand expectations for couple and family reintegration
  • be patient with own feelings and in dealing with the veteran’s mood changes
  • intentionally become reacquainted
  • deliberately re-develop and build on communications and intimacy

As the spouse considers these factors, he/she will be better prepared to understand their specific reactions to their warrior’s return. The stay-at-home spouse reactions vary greatly, between not having to adjust at all during the transition and reintegration, to the spouse not knowing their partner because they have drastically changed thereby making it difficult to adjust.

CHALLENGES OF TRANSITIONING HOME

While the warrior is deployed, the family attempts to keep everything as normal as possible.  The spouse and children attend work, school functions and their faith community. The children continue to play soccer, baseball, and cheer. They visit the grandparents and go shopping. Normalcy is paramount for the family.  Also, the spouse may find it difficult to navigate the military systems in order to better integrate into the community or to find support resources.

Several dynamics affect the family during reintegration. The returning warrior has changed, and so has the spouse and children.  The spouse and the children functioned alone.  The warrior denied his/her own needs in order to serve their comrades as the spouse denied his/her needs for the family. The warrior followed rules and regulations and the spouse navigated the bureaucracy of military support agencies. At times, neither the warrior nor spouse understand or accept these changes. All of these could affect the reintegration of the couple and family.

The reintegration process includes numerous challenges for the spouse;

  1. Feelings of joy and relief because their warrior has returned from a combat zone may be mixed with unexplained anger because the spouse may feel displaced.
  2. The spouse may find it difficult to fit the returning warrior back into the family routine. This may include  re-balancing children discipline and responsibilities.
  3. While the warrior was away, the spouse  learned a new sense of independence. The spouse may now find it difficult to share in decision making.
  4. Getting to know the warrior again. There may be some fear and concern for the reactions being displayed by the returned warrior, or fear that they will no longer connect.
  5. Communicating expectations and the story of his/her experience during the deployment may be difficult because the returning warrior may not be receptive nor interested.
  6. During the deployment, the spouse most likely found a social support network. Who do they turn to for advice now that their warrior has returned?
  7. Lastly, the spouse may begin to worry about the next deployment that could affect their openness to allow the returning veteran to reintegrate back into their relationship and the family’s lives.

During the course of the Post 9/11 wars, the Army developed pre-deployment training for the warrior in order to prepare them to survive on the battlefield, and what to expect during re-deployment in how to better process the transition and reintegration with the family. This training was required for the deploying service member. Additionally, the Army required every Soldier to attend the same training prior to re-deploying. The Army opened the training to spouses both pre and post deployment. However, spouses were not required to attend.  For various reasons, many spouses chose not to attend.

The training provided the warrior and spouse some mitigating factors in order to better navigate through the reintegration process. Some of these factors included;

  • frequency of positive contact during deployment
  • importance of good communication and patience to give time and space to re-adjust
  • overall acceptance and adjustment to deployment
  • spouses use of military support programs
  • adjustments to expectations according to the age of children
  • celebrate together the personal growth each person has achieved during the deployment

Of course there are some negative factors that could cause stress to the spouse while the warrior is deployed that most likely will linger into the transition phase;

  • poor and difficult contact with the warrior during deployment
  • mistrust of the warrior’s faithfulness to the marriage vows while deployed
  • negative beliefs in the value of the warrior’s mission
  • the warrior’s exposure to imminent threat while in combat

An awareness of these stressors will help the spouse during reintegration.

There is definitely another important factor that must be addressed. If the warrior was wounded, either physically, mentally, or spiritually; this places great stress on the spouse and the reintegration process. The Rand Corporation conducted a study per the Dole Foundations’ Hidden Heroes on how many caregivers provide 24/7 care to their wounded veteran. There are 5.5 million from all wars which includes 1.1 million for the Post 9/11 wars who are parents, spouses, children and friends who 365 days of the year provide quality care to their loved one who was wounded in war. This places a great stress on the family and the reintegration process as well.

These are just a few of the transition challenges experienced by the spouse. Please, share your challenges so we all may benefit from your experiences. What tools did you use to assist you through the transition phase during re-deployment? What would you not do again?

Next week, we will focus our conversation on the challenges the children experience during reintegration. Until then, thank you for the conversation….

 

Thank You Susquehanna and Eastern Pennsylvania Conferences

November 24th, 2015 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we are grateful for the Eastern PA and Susquehanna Conferences of the United Methodist Church for hosting and supporting the ministry of Soul Care.

Soul Care Conversation (Transition and Re-integration Challenges – Experienced by the Veteran)

November 19th, 2015 Posted by Blog 2 comments

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversations is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)

Last week we focused on Veterans Day as we discussed how to thank a vet. The week prior we began a conversation on introducing the challenges of reintegration and transition for the veteran and the veteran’s family. This week we will discuss specifically the challenges experienced by the veteran.

LONG TERM EFFECTS OF THE POST 9/11 WARS

David Wood, writer for the Huffington Post, in his 25 October 2012 article, Iraq, Afghanistan War Wounded Pass 50,000, offers the following observation;

  • Serious wounds – over 50,000 of which 43,000 Traumatic Brain Injury and 1600 limb amputations
  • Over 4,000 new cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) each month
  • Most of the injured are young and will require decades of care
  • Estimated health care cost could reach half a trillion over the next two decades

These statistics do not reflect what is another invisible wound of war, the soul wound. The spiritual component is an under-served dimension of veteran care. Researchers are now beginning to understand something that they cannot label as PTSD. They call it “moral injury.” Currently, it is not recognized as a diagnosis. In the behavioral health discipline, moral injury is an explanation for many veterans’ emotional responses to their experiences of war.

However, I do not think the term moral injury captures the totality of the veteran’s response. I think the better term is soul wound. We will have an in-depth discussion on soul wounds in a later conversation.

THE EXPERIENCE OF REINTEGRATION

Beyond the more serious concerns of our veterans who are wounded in body, mind and spirit, the transition from combat to home provides numerous other challenges. Our active, reserve and guard component service members deployed on lengthy and multiple operations into Iraq and Afghanistan. The effects of multiple separations put stress on families and the individual warrior’s functioning.

In my 30 years of active service I deployed 9 times and departed for countless training exercises. Although deployments and training exercises were much different in length as well as operational intensity, they all required communication of expectations prior to departure as well as upon my return. Prior to deploying we had to discuss house and vehicle maintenance, bill paying, scouting and school for our sons, family roles, preparing a power of attorney and will, discussing the what ifs (end of life), and how we would communicate while separated. All of this was necessary in order for our family and its individual members to thrive and at time survive during a difficult situation. Our preparation also prepared us for reintegration following the deployment.

Reintegration is the stage of the deployment cycle characterized by the service member’s reentry into his or her daily life as experienced prior to deployment, or into a new civilian life after separating from military service. Most literature suggests that reintegration can last several months. However, reintegration can actually persist for months to years depending on the returning warrior, his or her family, and the context of the warrior’s experience in combat.

The returning warrior, spouse, and children often demonstrate great resilience during a smooth and joyful reintegration. However, many returning warriors and families have difficulties with this stage of re-deployment.

Reintegration can be a trying and turbulent time for the entire family, as each member must re-form back into a functioning family system. One of the greatest challenges for the troubled family appears to be renegotiating family roles as the veteran encounters the often-unexpected difficulty of fitting into the home routine that has likely changed a great deal since his or her departure. Typically, over the course of one or more deployments, the at-home parent and children (especially adolescents who are more capable of providing greater support within the home) assume new responsibilities. When the veteran returns there may be expectations among the veteran that things will return to how they were prior to deployment. However, expectations among the family members may be that the structures and routines that emerged during the deployment will remain. The lack of communicating appropriate expectations is a frequent source of conflict and stress for reintegrating families.

CHALLENGES OF TRANSITIONING HOME

There are several key factors to consider in understanding the warrior’s return from  combat to the home and work environment. While the warrior was deployed, most experienced or felt the following;

  • strong bond with battle buddies
  • accomplishing something that made a difference
  • rapidly changing situations in a high-stress and pressure filled environment
  • a sense of high alert and anxiety with surges of Adrenalin

Now that the warrior has returned from war, they likely still carry the edge of hyper-vigilance, grieve the loss of the close bond with a battle buddy and the loss of doing something that holds significance, and find themselves in slower pace of living. It is difficult to shed the warrior mentality, to let go of the behaviors that kept the warrior alive while in combat.

Now that the warrior is home, not only will the warrior have to process their personal experiences of war, they will also have to faces numerous reintegration challenges. How the veteran faces these challenges may depend on the following;

  • pre-deployment experience with the family
  • meaningfulness of the deployment
  • the challenges of the deployment
  • anticipation of the homecoming

The following are some specific challenges that the reintegrating veteran will face;

  1. Feeling like she/he no longer fits into their family due to the family changes that occurred while they were absent; including the growth and development of his/her children, and the increased competence and independence of the spouse who has taken over many of the tasks and roles that were previously completed by the veteran.
  2. The transition from a war zone to home can be disconcerting in itself. Imagine being on a forward operating base in Afghanistan where the threat of rocket or mortar fire is prevalent, and the next day arriving home. There may be a sense of joy and relief being home, but the danger may still be a part of the veteran’s experience.
  3. Often difficulties related to spouse and children interaction occur due to low frustration tolerance, poor anger management, difficulties in coping, hyper-vigilance, and social withdrawal. Many of these could be characterized as post-traumatic stress symptoms and may also include increased alcohol use and heightened symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  4. Returning to the old job where someone else has filled in or the patterns have been changed.
  5. Most returning veterans begin to think of home on the plane as they leave the danger behind. Often they have unrealistic expectations, a fantasy of what the reunion will be like.

It is understandable that the transition from warrior to civilian can be overwhelming. On top of the challenges we have discussed, the returning warrior may face exhaustion. It is no wonder our combat veterans face what looks like insurmountable obstacles. How can the faith community assist veterans through this complex readjustment process?

Next week, we will look in depth at the challenges the spouse faces with re-integration. Until then….

 

Soul Care: Spiritual Journey Toward Healing and Well-being for Our Veterans and their Families

November 10th, 2015 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

The church is uniquely positioned to give attention to the spiritual health of our veterans – an underserved component of veteran’s well-being. Churches have distinctive strengths and capacities for care. The church is the sacred community called forth for life and healing.

Veterans Day – “Thank you for Your Service”

November 9th, 2015 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

Members of the church can be a great resource. Walking with veterans and their families on healing journeys is means of justice, and what faith communities are about in ministry. As the church lives the liturgy throughout the church year they experience anew the powerful reassurance of God’s grace and presence in the lives of that faith community. As the church lives out these words, they learn to trust others, to bind the wounds of those hurting, and to grow in grace.