Minnesotans returning from National Guard deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq have often found it challenging to resume everyday life. Conditioned to take cover from explosions, many have felt unnerved by loud noises back home. Trained to scan roadways for insurgents or roadside bombs, many have felt anxious in heavy traffic on 35W or on residential streets cluttered with trash bins and obstacles.
A frustration for some returnees is the difficulty in reconnecting with their families -- their spouses and their suddenly older children who got by in their absence by developing their own routines. Gwen Zimmerman and her husband both were deployed as members of the Minnesota National Guard -- in one case their deployments overlapped and their children stayed with in-laws -- and found the returns challenging.
"For me, it was hard to be the outsider looking in at my own family ... It had been six months and I felt like I was still watching my family through the lens of a video camera instead of actually being there," she said.
A new University of Minnesota study is examining this problem and what types of supports work best for Guard members once they have returned home to their families. In collaboration with researchers at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center, the U will recruit 400 Guard and Reserve families for the study. (Eligible families must include recently deployed Guard members who have children in the 5-12 age range.)
Participating families will either receive existing support options or a new service called ADAPT (After Deployment: Adaptive Parenting Tools) that has been tailor-made for military families in the National Guard and Reserves. The families will be interviewed four times over two years to evaluate their progress and to see if the ADAPT program offers superior results.
According to a U of M press release, families will be paid $400 to $635 over the course of the study. Parents in the 14-week parenting program will also receive on-site childcare and homework help for their school-aged children while they attend groups. More information can be found online
Zimmerman and her family participated in an earlier test phase of the ADAPT program. She said it was helpful and that support back home was necessary -- even though her family tried to remain connected during deployment through Skype, letters and care packages. Existing reintegration services don't focus much on parenting issues, she said.
"There always seemed to be lots of things for the soldier; there's lots of things for the couple, and it was that parenting piece that was (missing,)" Zimmerman said.
Research out of the Minneapolis VA and the U.S. Armed Forces has confirmed that reintegration is different for Guard members as compared to soldiers in active military components. Adding to the challenge: symptoms of depression and PTSD continue to be more prevalent among Guard and Reserve members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the latest deployment health assessment data.