School Psychology Program Partners with Illinois National Guard on Reintegration Program

Article excerpt

In the course of one of the authors (MES) working as a Red Gross volunteer providing mental health services to children and families of local National Guard Soldiers deployed to Iraq, he was contacted by the Illinois National Guard to explore the Illinois State University school psychology program's interest in evaluating a recently developed set of reintegration services for soldiers and families of combat veterans. "Tying the Yellow Ribbon" (TTYR) is a planned series of activities/services provided by the Illinois Army National Guard (ILARNG) that capitalizes on the outpouring of support from Illinois communities. Modeled after the successful program in Minnesota, the ILARNG seeks to ensure that military members and their families are adequately supported and trained for their reunion and reintegration after war.

Though empirical research on war veterans has mainly focused on Vietnam veterans, there have been a few studies conducted with veterans from Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). Milliken, Auchterlonie, and Hoge (2007) reported that upon returning from war 17% of National Guardmembers return to their respective families and communities with mental health concerns. Furthermore, one of the most important findings from the Milliken et al. study is that more than twice as manynew cases of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were identified on a health reassessment administered 3 to 6 months after returning home than were identified on the initial assessment. This trend was similar for other health concerns such as alcohol use and interpersonal concerns. Johnson et al. (1997) analyzed homecoming stress for returning Vietnam veterans andfoundthat a soldier's concern about potentially having a negative homecoming experience was a better predictor of PTSD than combat exposure. These results demonstrate the need for formal reintegration services that increase the awareness of certain reintegration challenges for National Guard war veterans and their families.

Typical of any family system, stress placed upon a single family member affects family functioning as a whole. Soldier spouse distress has been found to be positively correlated with family disruption ratings. Parent distress scores collected during the deployment of the other spouse have been found to predict child behavior problems, child deployment reactions (Medway, Davis, Cafferty, Chappell, & O'Hearn, 1995), and child emotional distress (Jensen, Martin, & Watanabe, 1996). A study by Jensen, Bloedau, Degroot, Ussery, and Davis (1990) found that children's symptom levels were related to parental psychopathology and life stress. Aside from elevated ratings of anxiety and depression (Jensen, Grogan, Xenakis, & Bain, 1989), children can demonstrate the impact of deployment-related stresses through increased academic, interpersonal, and behavior problems (Medway et al.; Applewhite & Mays, 1996; Jensen et al.) . Increased personal distress of the parent at home impacts child distress and negative behavior levels, which could affect the parent's use of appropriate parenting skills and the coping skills of both the parent and child. Therefore, it is important to determine if resources provided to family members are being accessed and if they are meeting their specific needs.

Effective reintegration is defined differently by and for each individual family member, including the soldier. Both the soldier and his or her family members will have grown and developed in unique ways during deployment, which in turn presents unique challenges and potential stresses when trying to establish or re-establish family roles, routines, and habits.

A main purpose of this research collaboration is to provide the Illinois National Guard with data and formal feedback regarding the soldier and family satisfaction with and overall effectiveness of the reintegration services. The research team at Illinois State University is focused on evaluating the reintegration services through surveys administered to soldiers, spouses, and/or significant others at reintegration events. …