Survey: Troops less likely to get support services after first deployment

Stars and Strips

Families of troops facing a second or third deployment are less likely to receive support services they need than during the first tour of duty, a new survey of military families found.

The study, conducted by the National Military Family Association, included responses from 1,592 military families and found that just 47 percent of those surveyed felt they received “consistent support” from the services and their spouses’ units. Some 17 percent said they received no support at all.

Joyce Wessel Raezer, government relations director for the association, said researchers were surprised to discover that many families facing a second or third deployment and new stresses felt they did not have the same range of counseling, support or information services that were available the first time.

“There’s often a feeling from command and from the support groups that, ‘We’ve done all this before, so why do we have to go through everything again?’” she said.

“But we’re seeing a lot of families who, the second time around, might need that same information, or they may need some help that they hadn’t before.”

Officials from the Marines and Army said they’ve emphasized to commanders the importance of treating every deployment as if it were brand new to the families, giving them a full overview of the services and resources available.

“The Marine Corps is such a young force, we’re always having someone new join the unit,” said Bryan Driver, spokesman for the Marines personal and family readiness division. “So our units basically start over with every deployment.”

He said the Marines provide many more family services than they did at the start of the Iraq war, and that officials believe the service is doing a better job reaching to families today than just a few years ago.

But he noted that officials have made a new push to include families of Guardsmen and reservists, groups that typically are harder to reach.

Army spokesman Maj. Nathan Banks said tending to military families’ needs is a top priority for deploying units, and that all commanders should be making sure to update spouses on support groups and counseling options no matter how many times a soldier has been deployed.

Christina Jumper, a research associate on the project, said the survey did not find indications which families might need more help dealing with additional deployments. Family size and length of service did not make a military spouse more or less likely to need counseling during a second deployment.

But families that sought counseling during a servicemember’s deployment were better prepared to handle emotional issues during subsequent tours, Jumper said.

The association on Tuesday used the survey’s release to push for more funding for family volunteer services, more counseling and support programs, and more attention from the services in tending to the needs of families both before and after deployment.

Susan Evers, a research associate on the project, said family members were not only concerned with services available during deployment but also with help available once their troops returned home. Fifteen percent said they were only partially prepared or not at all ready for the emotional and social difficulties of reuniting after the tour of duty.

Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas, spoke during the survey release event and called the report a road map for legislators as they shape defense policy. Programs such as impact aid for schools with military children and counseling services for families with deployed troops, he said, must be fully funded.

“When it comes to supporting military families, it’s about keeping our promise to the troops,” he said.

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