Homecoming = Your service member will soon be coming home from a deployment. Reunion time is a wonderfully exciting time for military families. And possibly a bit stressful.
This posting will include various resources available to help spouses, children, girlfriends, boyfriends and parents of service members. Some of the same available resources can be used in preparing for R&R time as well. I hope that you will find the information helpful during your journey.
I have personally learned that no matter how many previous deployments our family has been through, each new deployment and re-deployment is different in various ways for me, my children and my service member. Every family and service member will likely have similar experiences during a deployment, but we also have very different experiences depending upon personal circumstances. The same rings true for spouses during re-deployment, post-deployment and for each service member. Reintegration can certainly be a "shock" to the system for all involved. Spouses sometimes have our own unique reintegration issues and we all know that sometimes homecomings don't go as planned.
As I stated in the posting Preparing for Deployment - I am an Army wife and I will be the first to admit that I am not always up to speed on every available resource for each branch of service. Please understand that this posting will not be all inclusive nor will it be representative of all service wide available resources. I also know that what the Army does, does not always ring true for each service. With this in mind, please feel free to link resources and services that have been helpful for you, that are more branch specific or that you feel will be helpful to other military families. Tell us about your reunion experiences, what was helpful, what was not, what went well and what did not. We are here to help each other, learn from each other and lean on each other.
You have likely been caught up in varying degrees of stress during the deployment, as well as varying stages of the emotional cycles that deployments bring. Breath deep and then set your sights on preparing yourself and your family for the re-deployment and post-deployment stages.
Post-deployment can be a bumpy ride for several weeks or months (sometimes that is a minimum time-frame) after your service member returns or it can be a relatively easy transition. Our family has experienced both. Transition time will vary from family to family and likely from deployment to deployment.
Your service member can expect go through some reintegration training while still in theater. They will take a Post-Deployment Health Assessment shortly after arriving home. With the Army, they spend their first 10-14 days at home-station doing more reintegration training. Sometimes we can become a bit bitter that the military is taking our service member out of the home during those first couple of weeks home, but in my experience it is much better for them to attend the training than for it not to be available. At the end or our family's last deployment, spouses were also welcome to attend much of the training (along side their service member) that was offered during those 10-14 days. Your service member will also take a Post-Deployment Health Re-Assessment (PDHRA) three to six months after their return in order to help gage possible issues that could have arisen after being back at home and home-station for a period of time.
If you are on or near an installation you will likely have the opportunity to attend a re-deployment briefing before your service member returns. This briefing is very important and I urge you to attend if at all possible. I sometimes dread these briefings just as I dread the actual briefings before a deployment. I have found that with each re-deployment, it is always good for me to have a person in front of me sharing their stories, sharing new and valuable resources that have come available and sometimes it is just nice to sit beside other spouses that are experiencing and will be experiencing the same things. You will be given a wealth of information on local community and service wide resources. If you are unable to attend these briefings, you can generally contact your Rear-D, FRG Leader or Key Caller and request information from the briefings be emailed to you or relayed to you via phone or snail mail.
You can share Your Soldier Your Army Parents Guide with your and/or your service member's parent(s) as a way to help them understand the post-deployment process. You will find even more resources for extended families here.
Military OneSource has a wide variety of resources available to help in almost every situation. You can download a copy of Growing as a Couple: Staying Strong as a Couple which is helpful during any stage of marriage or separation. A resources that provides helpful tips to spouses and service members is Returning to Family Life After Military Deployment. It also provides a time-line which can be very helpful when trying to understand the phases of reintegration. See this list for a overview of more deployment related materials available to you and your service member via Military OneSource. They also offer many 'worksheets' - one example is Becoming a Couple Again Reintegration Fact Sheet for Military Couples. Returning from deployment resources are widely available and you can find even more articles that are helpful here. Returning from the War Zone: A Guide for Families of Military Personnel and Homecoming After Deployment: TIPS FOR REUNION are also helpful articles.
If your service member is returning home as a new parent this resource can be helpful as they plan to re-deploy. If you have older children this resource is a great reintegration suggestion guide and you can find several other family/children related resources here and here.
The Battlemind resource provides super information for spouses and service members alike. The website includes tools and resources developed by WRAIR to help service members transition back to civilian life. Battlemind training focuses on maximizing skills used in combat to adjust to being home. On the website you can view a 35 minute video for service members and their families. In addition, there are introductory slide presentations for service members post-deployment as well as three to six months post-deployment.
At Battlemind you will find resources such as Transitioning from Combat to Home. I found it very helpful to read over the information that my service member was being given. They also provide a similar resource specifically for spouses.
There is also an online mental health self assessment available to service members and spouses.
After re-deployment some service members may experience varying degrees of combat stress or PTSD. This does not happen with all service members, but knowing about the information ahead of ever needing it is always a good idea in my book. You can always find more resources and local resources for your service member, yourself or your family via your local installation support agency. You can refer to Dealing with PTSD for many resources. Another good article is Coping with Post-Traumatic Stress. Also remember that spouses have a variety of counseling options available if and when needed.
Blue Star Mothers recently published a guide titled Guide to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and you can request a free copy here. One more resource that is available to you and provides a wealth of information is The National Center for PTSD.
If you are a National Guard or Reserve family, you can access several helpful articles here and here that will help guide you and your service member along the road of returning to civilian life and work after deployments. Guard Family and Virtual Armory also have a variety of resources.
Your pay and entitlements will change after the deployment ends. It is best if you can plan ahead for the reduction in pay and adjust your budget accordingly. It is also a good idea to keep a very close eye on your LES in the couple of months following the deployment. If you are unsure how to read the LES, you can use the resource here.
When it comes time to take post-deployment leave, there are a variety of places that you can go and many discounts available for service members and their families. Many installation Child and Youth Services will offer childcare (sometimes free or discounted) for families with recently re-deployed service members and sometimes even on Friday evenings or on Saturdays. If you are lucky enough to have a ASYMCA near you, they may also offer childcare perks for your family, post-deployment. In our household we generally spend a couple of weeks alone together at home readjusting and then either go on a small vacation or go and visit family. We have a rule in our house that no one is allowed to visit us until my husband has been home for at least a month. Every family will vary in how they deal with visitors after a deployment, but for us, we just like to have a solid block of time to get to know one another again before we allow others to visit in our home. You will have to find what works for you and your family and run with it.
In all of the homecoming excitement, don't forget that sometime soon, you will likely need to update your Powers of Attorney, possibly your Family Care Plan and also take a look at TSP if you have been investing or would like to begin investing. Sometimes a PCS move will be right around the corner and that is another bag of worms to prepare for. I have been there and done that semi-recently!
Now that we have several bases covered on homecoming, let me say that the best personal advice I can give to those who (would) ask, when it comes to the subject of homecomings - just take things day by day. We never know from one day to the next or from one deployment to the next, how our lives will be changed when our service member returns or how the reintegration process will go when our service member comes home. All we can do is prepare ourselves as much as possible and then deal daily with whatever presents itself. Reach out to others when you need a shoulder or an ear and know that you are not alone in whatever experience reintegration brings. Another military spouse has likely had a similar experience somewhere along the way.
I was actually very impressed with how my husband's entire unit came together for each other after their last deployment and how the command team made sure that any soldier or family member that needed help with post-deployment issues, received help and/or knew where to go in order to receive it. That is how it should be.
We cannot forget ourselves during the reintegration process. Our service members have a lot to adjust to when they come home. That much is true. We as spouses also have many changes to adjust to when they return home and we must also take the time think of and prepare ourselves. The Chaplain in my husband's former unit advised him, before re-deployment, to be sure and give me 10 non-sexual touches each day and urged him to ask me how he could help within our house to ease reintegration. The Chaplain's advice, in my opinion, was simple and exceptional. Those two seemingly small pieces of advice were very helpful in my household and if that Chaplain were here now, I would hug him!
Best wishes on your reintegration journey!
Return To Honor is an available three day retreat for service men and women returning from combat who are dealing with reintegration and combat stress.
The Coming Home Project offers free support and stress management workshops and retreats, including counseling for OIF and OEF veterans and their family members.