Reintegration challenges New Hampshire’s military

New Hampshire has more than 115,000 veterans. We have the eighth-largest per capita veteran population in the country, and that doesn’t include those who are currently serving or their families.

Reintegration is the stage of the deployment cycle in which those who have served arrive back home and re-enter civilian life. Many of our state residents aren’t aware that New Hampshire’s military servicemen and women are leaving and returning from small and large deployments at various times during the year.

There are lots of social media pictures of the joyful reunions of servicemen and women returning to the arms of their families. And of course these moments are magical. What is harder is what follows the initial reunion, when reintegrating seamlessly into the civilian world poses challenges related to family relationships, community support and jobs.

Reintegration has no official timeline. For many, this stage lasts just a few months, but for others, challenges can become worse many months or even years after the return. Although many service members and their families demonstrate great resilience during the whole deployment cycle, many others have difficulties. Knowing that this is normal can be helpful, to lessen the confusion and angst felt by those who are struggling with this transition and are wondering why everything isn’t like the storybook images seen on social media.

New Hampshire’s military population is composed of many who serve in the Guard and Reserves, and without an active-duty base in the state, these Guardsmen and Reservists enter back into their families, neighborhoods and workplaces without much of a buffer between their deployment experience and the norms and expectations of civilian life. Better understanding the realities of the reintegration phase helps everyone affected by a service member’s return home.

"Battlemind" is both a description of a warrior’s combat-focused mental orientation and combat skills necessary for survival (B-Buddies/cohesion, A-Accountability, etc.) and a program used to lessen the impact of this mental state on a service member’s effective functioning after returning home. Many of these combat-zone skills can pose difficulties in the home zone, and the successful transition from warrior back to civilian is challenging.

Acknowledging that time hasn’t stood still for the service member, his or her family members, and the community and workplace, is important. Everyone has changed – the service member has had experiences that have changed him or her, the kids have grown, roles in the family have shifted, new neighbors have moved in, the job that existed before now no longer exists – and all of these changes can cause anxiety and tension, even if they are positive. It isn’t unusual for financial problems, communication problems or relationship issues to surface during this time.

It helps to appreciate that time itself can be powerful in this process, allowing for an easing back into things, being patient while adapting to the new rhythms of the home, the community and the workplace. Understanding that this is a normal and gradual transition gives space for the reintegration challenges to resolve with time.

What can families, communities and workplaces do to support a service member and his or her family after a return from deployment? Having realistic expectations about the time needed to adjust is important. Too many welcome-home barbecues and large parties in the first few weeks can actually be overwhelming.

We can express our appreciation for their sacrifice. We can ask about their experience, and listen and try to understand. This builds a feeling of acceptance and appreciation. Effective communication before, during and after deployment is key to a successful transition. If a service member is struggling to communicate, encourage him or her to seek out other family, friends, battle buddies or mental health professionals for help.

Here are resources for service members and those who support them:

askthequestionnh.com/resources/resource-list.

easterseals.com/nh/our-programs/military-veterans-services/milt.pdf.

Easter Seals New Hampshire Military & Veterans Services provides services to New Hampshire veterans, service members and their families, including counseling, employment, housing, substance abuse treatment, transportation and connection to treatment resources. Veterans Count, the philanthropic program of ESNH MVS, provides emergency financial assistance to this population for critical and unmet needs and raises awareness about the challenges that can result from military service.

For more information about Veterans Count or to make a donation, visit vetscount.org. If you know a service member, veteran, or military family in need, contact Chrystn Pitt, Easter Seals New Hampshire Military & Veterans Services, at 315-4354.