The vast majority of Guard and reserve families in a new RAND study reported that their readjustment after deployment was going well or very well.
The study was conducted in 2011 and 2012 using a web-based survey and interviews to assess the challenges Guard and reserve families face during the reintegration process. Researchers acknowledge they didn’t get the participation they had hoped for — 174 service members and 18 spouses representing 192 households completed the web survey, and 167 participated in interviews. More than 800,000 members of the reserve components have been activated since Sept. 11, 2001.
Their initial goal was 100 interviews from each of the six Guard and reserve components, said Laura Werber, lead researcher for the RAND study and its 249-page report.
It was sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs.
The survey was not representative of the overall reserve component population — for example, the Navy Reserve was overrepresented and the Army National Guard was underrepresented. The study also included a greater proportion of officers than is found in the overall Guard and reserve population.
But the survey and interview samples were large enough to analyze the connections between families’ perceptions of their success in reintegration, and factors such as where the families live, their financial situation, length of time and other characteristics of the most recent deployment, the service member’s psychological or physical issues resulting from deployment, and communication with the service member’s unit.
The survey was limited to families who reported that a service member had been home from deployment for three to nine weeks. Those participating in follow-up interviews reported having service members who had been home from an overseas deployment for three to six months.
Attention needs to be paid to the long-term reintegration of troops, Werber said, because “we don’t know all the long-term consequences. Mental health and physical maladies may rear their heads.”
Successful reintegration had an impact on the service members’ plans to continue in the military, and on the spouses’ support for staying in the military, researchers found.
Researchers helped quantify some factors of successful reintegration that won’t be a surprise to most families:
■The service member returned without a psychological issue.
■The service member returned without a physical wound or injury.
■Family finances were comfortable.
Other factors included:
■Families’ readiness for the deployment.
■ Whether the service member deployed as part of his or her drill unit, as opposed to deploying on his or own, as in the case of Individual Augmentees.
■Adequacy of communication with the family during deployment.
■Adequate communication from the military after deployment.
When asked about the benefits they experienced during reintegration, families interviewed tended to mention their family bonds were strengthened, according to the report. Families often grew closer “as a result of time together, good communication and a renewed appreciation for one another after time apart.”
One Air Force Reserve E-5’s spouse told researchers, “Our communication has gotten better. We’ve grown closer. And it seems like the small things that used to irritate us don’t necessarily irritate us anymore. … We’ve just grown closer.”
Researchers also interviewed service providers with DoD programs, local and state governments, private nonprofit and for-profit service providers, and faith-based organizations. Researchers found that these service providers face barriers to supporting Guard and reserve families.
To help families in the future with the readjustment process, researchers said, DoD can emphasize early preparation for reintegration — starting before and during deployment — and engage spouses more in the process. DoD also can identify gaps and overlaps in support, aid coordination between providers and encourage them to measure their effectiveness.
DoD officials have acknowledged that they need to increase their partnerships with civilian organizations to help meet the needs of military families.
“Sometimes there are so many resources, it’s confusing,” Werber said. “Sometimes it’s not the lack of resources, but the lack of coordination between people who are doing the same thing.”
It’s not necessarily that organizations are not cooperating, but that they may not be aware of what other organizations are doing, she said.