The Doctors Lane

Veterans and Their Families

The families of veterans suffer too from acute stressors during three phases of the deployment.

There is the Pre-Deployment Phase after the service member has received orders and they know they will be deployed in six months for a year overseas. During this pre-deployment phase, the family struggles with the knowledge that the service member will be gone for the next year, that the spouse or significant other will have to shoulder all the responsibilities for the household alone for a year, and the anticipation of worry and loneliness starts during this phase.  The family must get all the affairs in order so that one person can manage alone for a year, causing more stress with the assumption of unfamiliar roles.  The couple may drift apart as time shortens and each withdraws as a matter of self-protection in order to prepare for the coming separation.  If there are children involved, then a whole other level of responsibility, worry, and stress flows into the overall dynamic.  This phase lasts until the service member leaves home.

The Deployment Phase begins when the service member leaves and lasts for the length of the deployment. The whole dynamic of the family shifts as one person takes on two jobs and tries to play two roles. The burden is heavy for the one left behind and for any children with an absent parent. The whole family unit worries and wonders what’s happening and there is never quite enough time to do everything that needs doing. Everyone is lonely and feels a disconnect; an emptiness that is hard to deal with.  They slowly adjust to the new dynamic over the course of the deployment.  The service member has the stress of the duty requirements during the deployment, harsh living and working conditions, as well as the loneliness, worry about the family, and depending on the deployment, the constant danger.

The Reintegration Phase begins when the service member returns home and re-enters the family or social system they left.  The family is used to getting along without this person, who now comes in and expects to pick up where they left off.  This may lead to a period of resistance and struggle from other family members who have adjusted to the other “normal” and resist going back to “old normal”.  Add to that dynamic the service member’s need for some decompression time and you have a potentially volatile mixture.  Who can blame a person who has been under extraordinary stress for a year wanting some quiet time to wind down, have a break, and just feel some peace? So the service member may seem distant, on edge, easily triggered, and take a while to settle in. This can be a particularly true of people coming home from combat tours.  All the normal acute stress and post-traumatic stress can lead to some difficult times at best, and if other things like illness, injury, Traumatic Brain Injury or Post Concussive Injury (very common from explosions in this IED world of post 9/11 terrorism) are involved, it’s easy to see why military families and families of veterans sometimes struggle.

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