After Your Service Member Returns from Deployment: Tips for Parents
Written by Domenici, Best & Armstrong (June 2013)
Deployment is life-changing. Even those who return uninjured are likely to see themselves and the world differently. Because of this, be open and nonjudgmental about differences you notice in your service member now that he is home.
Readjusting can take longer than a few weeks, sometimes as long as three years, particularly for members of the National Guard or Reserve. As part of this readjustment period, service members may need time to emotionally reconnect with you and others. Be patient and supportive. Don't rush it. Appreciate all your service member has gone through.
Strongly encourage your service member (if eligible) to apply for health care benefits at the local VHA Medical Center and then to schedule a primary care appointment. Encourage her to tell her primary care provider about any medical problems she is having, no matter how small the problem might seem.
It's not uncommon for service members to return with a warrior mindset even though they are safe at home in the US. They may be constantly on guard, feel wary in crowds, wish they could carry a weapon all the time, drive aggressively as if to avoid the enemy, sleep with one eye open, and be used to following or giving orders. Recognize that it's not easy for them to just stop using their warrior skill set that was their survival mechanism while deployed.
Your service member may prefer to spend time with her buddies or even talk about wanting to deploy again. Try not to take this personally. It's to be expected that she would gravitate toward spending time with those she deployed with or others in the military (in person, on the phone, online) because she feels a strong bond. It's not a competition. Give your service member the time and space she needs to decompress, which often will involve seeking support from others who have been in the military.
Invite your service member to share photos, videos, stories, or memorabilia from his deployment, but don't push him if he's not ready. Just engaging in activities or routine tasks together like walking, having dinner, watching television, going to a baseball game, or helping him settle into his place can be the first step toward building communication.