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Last week we concluded our conversation on the context of war as we reviewed the Post 9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. For the next four weeks we will focus our conversation around the challenges of transition and reintegration for the veteran and the veteran’s family. This week we will introduce reintegration and discuss some of the transition challenges.
INTRODUCTION: WHAT IS REINTEGRATION?
Reintegration is characterized by the veteran’s returning to his or her daily life as experienced prior to deployment. Despite much literature suggesting that the reintegration stage lasts several months, this stage can actually persist for months to years depending on the individual veteran, his or her family situation, and the fuller context of the service member’s life.
- learning how to reconnect with your family and loved ones
- taking care of YOU!
Let’s look at both of these aspects separately.
LEARNING HOW TO RECONNECT WITH YOUR FAMILY
Most likely, the warrior and family maintained contact during the course of the deployment. Letter writing, emails, and the occasional phone calls provided opportunities to remain as close as the distance in miles would allow. However, in some situations the separation only exacerbated an already difficult relationship. Couples discover that the distance makes it difficult to communicate. Or, the couple engage in power games, stretching an already strained relationship. For couples experiencing a healthy relationship, some fine-tuning may be needed when the veteran returns.
Reintegration can be a turbulent time for the family, as members must re-form into a functioning system. Some studies suggest that relationship stress and negative family function may reach a peak between 4 to 9 months after the service member’s return.
Challenges in reintegration often can center around:
- renegotiating family roles
- veteran encounters the often-unexpected difficulty of fitting into a home routine that has likely changed a great deal since his or her departure
- at-home parent and children assume new responsibilities
- spouse took on many of the roles the service member accomplished prior, such as paying bills, disciplining the children, repairing the car
- veteran may desire to take back the responsibilities
This can cause conflict within the marital relationship as well as effect the family dynamics. (In the following weeks we will look in some detail the challenges each family entity may experience.)
For the veteran who is single, there are some challenges as well. It is important for the veteran to consider what impact the deployment had on him or herself. How will this impact social relationships and living habits? Some of the same challenges that effect the married veteran will also be prevalent for the single veteran:
- the veteran’s significant other may have changed during the deployment
- immediate family members may have expectations on your time
- changes have occurred in some family members; such as illness, divorce
It is important for the veteran, spouse, and other family members to know that the transition from combat to home will provide numerous challenges. Knowing this will assist all family members to begin to communicate expectations and understand the changes that may have occurred in various familial entities during separation.
TAKING CARE OF YOU
Military training and combat operations have one big thing in common – survival. While in combat, certain circumstances threaten the physical, mental and spiritual health of the warrior. Combat stress and post- traumatic stress are common reactions to a combat deployment. Extreme stress while in combat will not only disrupt the warrior’s performance, but it will threaten the veteran’s health if not managed appropriately after he or she has returned. When symptoms linger for months it could lead to other illnesses or behavior issues such as:
- addiction (gambling, drugs and alcohol)
- domestic abuse
- child abuse
Veterans are extremely resilient and strong. However, sometimes their strengths can be a challenge. As a veteran may not recognize that they have endured extreme hardships or stress, they may have difficulty recognizing that they may need personal care. Sometimes, family members and friends notice changes in the veteran that may cause them concern.
Therefore, the returning veteran should look at the steps needed to take care of themselves.
What can the returning veteran do?
- complete all medical screening
- be aware of the post-deployment reactions
- accept training in coping skills
- focus on relieving symptoms of distress
- connect with care providers in order to get required help
- prior to military separation, visit respective service branch assistance programs in order to ensure benefits and resources
Understanding the nature and patterns for reintegration challenges enables the veteran and family to have more control over their lives. This knowledge will enhance a good reintegration.
What can the community do to understand these challenges? How can the community be a part of a good transition home? The answers to these questions can lead us to understand the role that the community can have in assisting the veteran disengage from military life and begin a full reintegration into civilian life.
Next week, we will look at the transition challenges a veteran will experience upon their return home. Until then, hope to have you join the conversation….