Studies release reports on counselling programs established to help military familes once left to fend on their own during CF members’ deployments

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This article is reposted from the Canadian Veterans Advocacy website. At last, a study on the families and homelife of vets deployed in combat and overseas peacekeeping missions. In 1994, there were none of these social services available for military spouses and families of troops deployed into adverse conditions around the world. Often soldiers as they deramped from some place out of the country were handed divorce papers because wives felt abandoned. No one taught their spouses how to cope alone, and not every woman or life partner has natural survival skills that kick in to endure alone through their spouses’ long deployments. The results of these studies indicate how deep-rooted family problems can become for the military. It is good to see that the DND has been trying to rectify their neglect of military families prior to the years of the Afghanistan mission by providing special programs dedicated to CF familes. Still, some have continued to fall through the cracks of care. BONNIE

As soldiers face the enemy overseas, their families face their fears at home

Wednesday, February 29, 2012
By Jordan Press, Postmedia News

KINGSTON, Ont. — The troops march into the Wagner home just before 4 p.m. after school has been let out.

The troops — Rose, 11, Fiona, 10, Grace, 8, and Noah, 5 — join Liam and Logan, both 3, and 19-month-old Toan, who is sitting with the home’s matriarch, Johanne Wagner. Immediately, the relatively quiet house becomes loud with debate about what to make for dinner (Rose and Fiona lobby for ribs).

This is the family Capt. Michael Wagner left behind during three tours of duty in Afghanistan.

He was there so much that the country itself became part of the family.

“He joined the (regular) force a month and a half after 9/11. From the get-go, Afghanistan has always been a part of our life as a military family,” Johanne Wagner says.

Across the country, thousands of military families have lived with Afghanistan as a constant in their lives. Now, for most, it is over.

Some families have come through it well.

Others have not.

Over the coming years, Afghanistan’s impact on families will begin to show more clearly, experts warn, particularly the toll mental health issues can take on spouses and children who are thrust unwillingly into the role of caregiver for a struggling family member who is a veteran. The work of families is only just beginning.

Research into the effects deployment has on families indicates that the physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) associated with being in a war zone can harm a family socially and financially. A 2009 study from Defence Research and Development Canada, for instance, found that under-employed military spouses had “significantly lower levels of psychological well-being and life satisfaction,” and higher levels of depression than non-military spouses.

Psychological war wounds put additional pressure on caregivers at higher rates than among caregivers in the general population, according to a 2007 University of Alberta study.

Caregiving spouses may also have a feeling that while their veteran partner is there physically, they are distant mentally, an experience known as “ambiguous loss,” says Deborah Norris, a researcher at Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax.

The stress can build so much, as spouses do anything to avoid triggering a flashback, that the impact can be greater on the spouse than on the veteran diagnosed with PTSD, according to research.

“The mental disabilities are ones that are particularly isolating and kept families from enjoying the kind of relationships inside the family and outside the family that they did before,” says Janet Fast, a researcher from the University of Alberta who studies the mental health of caregivers.

That 2007 University of Alberta study, which Fast helped write, also found that military spouses either had to give up work to become full-time caregivers, or take on extra work to fill a financial hole in the family’s income.

The military’s mental health service apparatus evolved over the course of the 10-year Afghanistan mission, including the creation on military bases of one-stop shops for health, insurance and career-planning services, and dedicated programs for children.

The military is now trying to institutionalize the lessons learned from Afghanistan and be ready for the future mental health needs of veterans, said Brig.-Gen. Fred Bigelow, head of the military’s family services division.

“These sort of things do fester and linger before they present themselves,” he says.

Predicting when most cases will surface is “not a perfect science,” he says.

The impacts of Afghanistan can already be seen. Children, such as the Wagner crew, have become more mature. They have grown up faster emotionally during deployments, becoming adult-like before their parents expected it.

“They have learned from a very young age, probably around the time daddy had to go away more and more, they learned to pitch in,” Johanne Wagner says.

Norris has kept an eye on the effects of deployment on military spouses for 20 years. One of her earliest studies as a researcher focused on military wives in Halifax who viewed deployment as a job.

“One woman said to another, ‘Here we go again. We’ve got to work them out and work them back in again,'” Norris said, remembering one of the study’s participants.

A second immediate impact of the mission is also evident.

“You hear a lot of stories and I know people where they go away overseas and when they come home, their house is empty and their kids are gone,” said Maj. Howard Yu, who did a 10-month tour in Afghanistan that ended this past summer.

“I was on the good extreme where she (his wife Erika Yu) did so much to keep it all together . . . that I was confident that I had nothing to worry about and I could focus on my job and come home safely.”

Yu’s son, Nathaniel, was born during the deployment and the military gave him extra time at home after the birth before he had to return to Afghanistan.

It took time for Nathaniel to warm up to his father, since he didn’t know him for the first few months of his life, but the Afghanistan mission appears not to have hurt their relationship.

“Now, he’s daddy’s boy,” Erika Yu said. “Whereas our daughter, I’ve been more her comfort person because I’ve been the constant in her life.”

Military support services for families during deployments have improved greatly over the past two decades, Norris said, fatefully in time for the Afghanistan mission.

“We have done a really good job in this country of building in programs and resources,” she said.

“There’s always this conversation around what could be done, and I think (the defence department has) done a lot.”

That may help explain why the majority of Canadian military families come through deployments unscathed.

A 2009 Defence Research and Development Canada study found that the majority of military spouses were happy and confident with their relationship and the majority of participants said they had a good relationship with their children. Few reported any negative consequences of deployment, but they were there: The study found a small number of reports of spousal abuse, permanent feelings of emotional disengagement and childhood delinquency.

How the Canadian Forces treats military families during deployment has a direct impact on future recruitment. If military children have a good experience during a deployment, they are more likely to eventually join the military, according to research.

Laura Landry and her two boys have lived for years with the patriarch of the family, Maj. Serge Landry, deployed overseas. Alexander, 17, and Nicholas, 15, watched how the military life affected their family and, Laura Landry said, they now want to join the Candian Forces and become engineers like their father.

As the years progress, the mental health wounds Afghanistan veterans have brought home could force some spouses to become caregivers.

Sue Cornies said she worries about her husband’s psychological well-being in the long-term after his deployment to Afghanistan. She and her husband, Cpl. Kevin Cornies, don’t talk about what he saw in Afghanistan, and Sue Cornies said she doesn’t want to know, not now or in the future.

She also doesn’t know what the future will hold for her two daughters, who will have to learn that Kevin is always ready to deploy.

“I hope it makes them stronger,” Cornies says of her daughters, Mackenzie, 11, and Abbey, 9. “I really do hope that’s what it does for them.”

“But I know it’s really hard and I know they’re really good about it, but again, I don’t know.”


About Bonnie Toews and John Christiansen

Bonnie's Blog Posts invite our readers and free spirits everywhere to share life's adventures with us. I talk about writing my novels, reading books, chatting with other writers and John's and my journeys around the world. We welcome your anecdotes to our experiences and discussions.
This entry was posted in Afghanistan vets, Canadian Armed Forces, caregivers, emotional trauma, estrangement from family, federal government, Homecoming Vets, social workers, veterans' affairs, veterans' assistance programs and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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