by Sara Horn
Why your service member may want to rethink going back to work too soon.
With a struggling economy and higher-than-usual unemployment rates, National Guard and Reserve members coming to the end of active deployments may be tempted to return to their civilian jobs as soon as possible. Normalcy and assurance of job security may be one reason; the benefit of getting both an early paycheck from the civilian job and a final check for being active can also be an incentive.
But families and experts caution against making the choice for an early return to the workforce purely because of monetary reasons. It’s important to evaluate the other needs that a service member and his or her family may have.
VALUE OF TIME
When Jessica Crow’s husband, an Army reservist, came home after his first deployment in 2003, the couple took a quick trip together before he returned to his sales job. But after his second deployment ended this year in March, after being gone for almost 14 months, they realized more time was needed for their family to reconnect than just a short vacation.
The Crows had assumed the transition after the second deployment would be much like the first, but now they had a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old to think about. And R&R was a wakeup call.
“While he was home for R&R in December, the kids were real clingy to him,” Jessica remembered. Her oldest son struggled especially. He regressed from being fully potty-trained to having lots of accidents, he was afraid that Jessica would also leave, and he showed a lot of anger toward his dad, even refusing to talk to him for a brief amount of time.
RECONNECT AT HOME
So after her husband returned to their home in Alabama in March, this time for good, they made the decision to stay home.
“This needed to be about us,” Jessica remembered thinking. “We didn’t check the computers, we shut off the phones, and we did whatever we felt like doing. It didn’t matter as long as we were together.”
Jessica’s husband used all of his military leave time before going back to work in May.
“We did not even consider double dipping,” she said. “We knew that we needed the time more than the money.”
During the time off after deployment, troops need to reconnect with themselves and their families and reintegrate into their social circle, said Dr. Jennifer Imig, a clinical developmental neuropsychologist who works with Soldiers post-deployment for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Illinois.
Imig said there is a danger for service members and their families if they try to rush the process of returning to normal before they’re ready.
“If a soldier returns to work too quickly, early signs of emotional stress or problematic reintegration may be missed through this process,” Imig said.
Imig said that if left untreated, psychological distress can result in diagnoses such as PTSD or depression, heightened risk of suicide, risk-taking types of behavior, or substance abuse or misuse.
Even if a Guard or Reserve member has not had exposure to traumatic events during the course of a deployment, Imig doesn’t recommend returning to work right away.
“The military expects there will be a period of natural adjustment post deployment, given the stress on the mind and body during combat tours,” she said. “So reminding a Soldier that a period of adjustment is normal is important. This period of time is just as important for their loved ones as it is for them.”
While the pay for accumulated leave may vary depending on how long a service member is deployed, the time for adjustment should not. A minimum of two weeks to 30 days is a good rule of thumb to spend resting and relaxing with the family. Go for walks, go to movies and play games with the kids. Take time to reconnect with the people who matter most.
Mike Goodrich is the transition assistance advisor for the State of Tennessee and works primarily with Army and Air National Guard members. He said that each service member and each family will need to judge for themselves what’s best.
“It’s really situational,” Goodrich said. “Some people can go back to work the next day. Some people need 30 to 60 days to decompress. It depends a lot on what type of combat and what type of situation they’ve seen while they’ve been gone.”
For their second deployment in 2005, Amber Roberts, a Tennessee National Guard wife and mom of four, said that leave time “wasn’t as big a deal” as the family’s first deployment in 2002. Her husband Tim cashed in some of his deployment time while he was still overseas so he could earn it tax free. Still, “he took about two weeks of time off for us to reconnect, which was sufficient since we didn’t go anywhere and only spent time at home,” Roberts said.
Rachel Latham, a Tennessee Army National Guard wife, made it a point to clear their family’s schedule for the two weeks after her husband came home for his recent R&R and plans to do the same when he comes home for good.
“We just slept late, checked the weather and decided what we felt like doing. Sometimes it was to stay in our jammies and play board games. Sometimes it was a trip to the zoo,” Latham said. “Just being together without pressure was great.”
For Guard and Reserve members who run their own businesses, taking several weeks to rest after a deployment isn’t always an option. Leanne Kocsis said her husband, Paul, an attorney who also serves as a captain in the Army National Guard, needed to get back to rebuilding his private practice after returning from his last deployment.
One of their biggest concerns was rebuilding Paul’s client base. Without a current load of work, there wasn’t any income. But there were also more immediate matters to care for like finding new office space and moving office furniture out of storage. Networking and meeting new judges and reconnecting with other attorneys for business referrals also required a lot of time.
Leanne’s family still found the time to reconnect by focusing on the little things.
“We took walks or bike rides as a family every night after dinner,” she said. “Paul helped coach our middle child’s T-ball team.” The family also took a trip to Disney World they had started planning while Paul was still in Iraq. “We had a wonderful time.”