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Challenges that Military Families Face

Military families have always faced more stress than other families due to deployment. Even when the military is not at war, families must still deal with moving and/or a parent's extended absence. The deployment of a parent to a war zone is probably the most difficult stressor military families regularly encounter.

Before, during, and after deployment, families confront a number of difficulties. When the family receives notification of a deployment, an emotional cycle begins, starting with intense emotions, such as extreme anxiety and fear. Detachment and disengagement may occur near the exit date, or before a person's departure.

Emotional Responses to Deployment

During the process of deployment, family members may experience the following:

  • Worry or panic
  • Sadness
  • Loneliness
  • Additional family obligations
  • Fears regarding their loved one's safety
  • A feeling of being overwhelmed
  • Financial stress and problems
  • Trying to comprehend what a deployed loved one may be experiencing

As you can see, worries and concerns abound when a family moves or deals with military deployment.

Children Coping with Deployment

Children's response to a parent's leaving can vary greatly. The parent who remains ‘at-home’ can have a direct impact on their child's level of anxiety or distress. This is particularly true for younger children

If parents succeed at managing the stress of deployment, their children are more likely to avoid the consequences associated with poor behavior. Therefore, learning how to cope with deployment is important for military families to know.

How Deployment Affects Relationships

Relationships during deployment can change. For example, an ‘at-home’ family member may have established new relationships or realized certain goals.

In some cases, infidelity may become a problem. That is why it is important that military couples discuss their individual commitment to their relationship and work together in achieving specific goals.

Frequently, military family members have certain stress reactions after a service member spends time away deployed. It is essential to know what types of responses to anticipate. Mood swings, irritability, and similar behaviors may need to be addressed after a service member returns to family life.

Readjusting to Home Life After Deployment

After deployment, service members often have gone through a series of challenges. Therefore, readjustment also takes some managing.

Even if a military member has been deployed before, new challenges present themselves during each reunion.

A reunion can be a happy time but it can also be stressful. In most situations, a ’honeymoon phase’ occurs after the service member returns home. Both the service member and his or her partner typically have gone through different life-altering experiences.

In some instances, the spouse or partner of a service member may be angry or feel frustrated because they had to manage some responsibilities that felt overwhelming.

Everyone in a family will have gone through challenges and changes during a deployment. That is why having patience and understanding can cure some of the negative feelings that may develop after a service member returns from a war zone.

Some issues are not so easy to fix. In some instances, service members have reported that, after deployment, they had angry outbursts at family members.Some of the members added that their children or partner, for these reasons, were afraid of them.

If certain responses to the cycle of military service do not improve over time, it indicates that a more severe problem has developed. If you are having problems with adjustment, you need to seek mental health counseling and help.

Reviewing the Situation

When a military service member returns home, you might consider the following questions:

  • How has the service member's behavior changed since he or she has been away?
  • Do they need mental health counseling?
  • Do they overreact or act out inappropriately?
  • What about the children? What are their fears? Have they been addressed?
  • Has the partner in the situation made certain changes that have affected family members?
  • What were some of the things a partner had to deal with when their partner was deployed overseas?

Answering the above questions can help you speak more easily with a mental health counselor so you can readapt to after-deployment obligations and responsibilities.

Managing PTSD

The Department of Veterans Affairs maintains a website where military members and veterans may go to find out more about getting treatment for post traumatic stress disorder, (PTSD), also once known as ‘battle fatigue’ or ‘shell shock.’

People who go through the traumatic experiences of war can suffer from a number of symptoms associated with PTSD, including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty Concentrating
  • Mood Swings
  • Troubles with sleeping

These symptoms can greatly disrupt their quality of family life as well.

Get Help Immediately

You should not delay seeking help for any emotions that may have surfaced after a deployment. The sooner you get help, the healthier it is for everyone concerned.

All military families struggle with the changes that result when a military partner or parent is absent. The military family must also undergo new challenges when a service member returns from his or her duty overseas.

The ‘at-home’ parent's mental health is a major concern when it comes to helping children cope with deployment. Mental health counseling and resources are offered inside the VA and outside the hospital for military families who seek treatment and help.

About the Author

Scott H. Silverman has been helping veterans recover from mental health problems and addiction for almost 40 years. He is the CEO of Confidential Recovery, a treatment program in San Diego that specializes in helping veterans.

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