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National Guard and Reserve Families Paying High Price for Lasting Impact of Combat Deployment


Members of the National Guard and Reserve who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan face some of the greatest challenges reconnecting with loved ones after they return home. A recent meeting in Tampa sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and National Healthy Marriage Resource Center reviewed current research and the urgent need for expanded services.

Members of the National Guard and Reserve who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan face some of the greatest challenges reconnecting with loved ones after they return home from deployments that typically last as long as 12 months. Unlike men and women who serve through other branches of the military, America’s National Guard and Reserve forces often return to their homes and families without the support system that exists in military communities. Many of their families are struggling.

That clear message was emphasized throughout a two-day Round Table last week in Tampa sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center.

Significant research collaborates frequent stories in the national and local media. The stress of combat deployment regularly comes home with soldiers returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In many cases, the impact is the loss of service members’ closest relationships with spouses and children who courageously, faithfully, and patiently awaited the safe return of fathers, mothers, husbands and wives who answered the call to service.

Dennis Orthner, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, presented research highlighting the correlation between a soldier’s rank and how well their spouse coped with deployment, the connection between social assets and high adjustment to deployment, and family assets that help children cope with a parent’s deployment.  Dr. Orthner reported that 83 percent of children whose parents are satisfied with their marriage coped well with a parent’s deployment.

Scott Stanley PREP
Scott Stanley presents on PREP for Strong Bonds.

Scott Stanley, Ph.D., a founder of the PREP marriage education program at the University of Denver that is almost exclusively provided in Strong Bonds classes sponsored by the Army nationwide, shared his research validating the positive impact of the program helping stem the rate of divorce among military couples. Many of the nearly two dozen participants invited to the Round Table were PREP instructors who were able to reinforce the program’s positive impact.

Seth Eisenberg, President of PAIRS Foundation, offered findings from PAIRS multi-year collaboration with the Veterans Administration delivering intensive, weekend retreats for couples impacted by combat deployment. Eisenberg stressed the critical importance of incorporating skills that facilitate confiding, empathy, reduce stress, anxiety, and deepen emotional understanding necessary to restore strong family bonds. PAIRS collaboration with the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center was recognized in 2009 as a VA Best Practice in Marriage Enrichment and is fast expanding through retreats delivered by VA Chaplains and behavioral health specialists nationwide.

Throughout the meeting, the need for greater local, state and national collaboration on behalf of Guard and Reserve families was constantly reinforced. Effective services are not reaching the vast majority of  soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Many programs that are widely promoted do not adequately address the emotional needs of combat deployed service members and loved ones to learn skills to reduce the impact of post traumatic stress and anxiety. The high price being paid by their spouses and children should inspire urgent action narrowly focused on honoring our nation’s sacred trust to each of them.

Following the meeting, Eisenberg said PAIRS Foundation will actively increase outreach to National Guard and Reserve couples to encourage participation in relationship and marriage education classes offered nationwide, many of which are grant funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He said PAIRS Foundation would provide scholarships for couples impacted by combat deployment to participate in an online adaptation of PAIRS Essentials that begins October 11.

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