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Guard family support programs facing new challenges

By Army Maj. Kenneth Ola | National Guard Bureau | March 31, 2015

ARLINGTON, Va. - National Guard Bureau family support program officials here don't hesitate to point out how many communities across the nation have stepped up to assist Soldiers, Airmen and their families throughout high-tempo operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And although deployments have gone down, family program support officials don't see a correlated decrease in the need for services.

"Service member needs are because of the deployments ... The needs keep increasing. For instance, the needs of wounded warriors, their needs are never going away," said Darla L. Siegel, outreach program specialist for Joint Community Forces here.

Also, as troops come home, the needs have evolved toward issues of reintegration, sustaining the transition and leveraging community partnerships to be able to maintain long-term local support to the families, lessening dependence on shrinking federal resources.

"So it's no longer just, 'How do I deal with deployment? How do I deal with my spouse leaving and coming back home?' which is huge in itself when you talk about separation and reintegration," said Tamra De Benedetto, Army Guard Family Services Program manager. "But now it's, 'How do I sustain that time after time after time?'"

Mobilizations, several weeks of training and deployments have had a cyclical effect on the service member's employment, family relationships and finances, De Benedetto said.

Three issues most commonly requested for support that her office receives, she said, involve financial support or assistance, finding jobs and relational concerns.

"What we find they are really looking for is long-term financial planning or financial counseling," she said. "Many of them need to know how to function with a budget. So what we do is connect them to resources within their community that can offer financial counseling and help them plan long term, because what we don't want is to see our families in a revolving door of robbing Peter to pay Paul."

Many also need help seeking civilian jobs, how to prepare a resume or for an interview, and learning to tailor expectations with current skills, said De Benedetto. They are directed to a variety of community partners, agencies, and organizations that help and assist them with resume writing, preparing for interviews, and step-by-step processes. Federal and state government entities are also available. ESGR and Hero2Hire are examples, she added.

Relational issues are typically tied to interpersonal communications, finances or employment issues families may deal with in the transition process, according to De Benedetto.

"It impacts the total relationship, be it marriage, significant other or maybe they are finding themselves in a position where they are sandwiched between taking care of kids and taking care of ailing parents," she said. "That brings financial concern. That brings emotional and mental stress. And how does that impact your marriage? When you're stretched so thin, you're pulled from all ends, it can have negative impacts."

She also observed a paradigm shift in military members' and their families' willingness to seek help, overcoming a stigma attached to seeking help within the military. "I don't think it's as strong today as it was seven years ago. Military leadership as a whole has encouraged families and Soldiers to come forward if they needed help," she said.

Although the number of Guard members deployed is decreasing, the needs for support continue to increase, said Siegel. JCF is an initiative to coordinate networks of community resources that will help provide localized support.

The JCF initiative's mission includes guiding and informing community leaders and local commanders on how to establish and sustain collaborative community, state and regional JCF teams. By building community capacity from the ground up, JCF will enable proactive and effective assistance right where Service members, veterans, and their families live.

"Our concept is to let the state determine how they can best develop these community support networks and how can they maintain contact with them through the Family Assistance Centers, the state family program directors, and the Airman and Family Readiness Program managers that are all military assets within the state," she said. "Maintaining that contact with those community groups is essential so you have that flow of communication."

The ANG is challenged with a one-person deep Airmen and Family Readiness program manager, according to Maj Kelly Barton, Airman and Family Services branch chief at the ANG Readiness Center on Andrews Air Force Base. This puts a strain on support available during surges and peak times at a wing.

"Even though there may be a drawdown of forces, the need to support families now and in the future will remain. The issues facing our families won't go away even if the operations tempo slows down, we have to find a way to sustain our support to Service members and their families," she said.

And even though the ANG is not facing a reduction of funding or manpower at this time, the ANG program is continuing work to fit support networks to the Airmen and families' needs, she added.

Re-emphasizing the need for community networking, Siegel noted that most Guard members don't necessarily go to their commanders or unit leaders who they see once a month, about some of the problems they have. They're talking to their neighbor or pastor or other friend in the community, someone in their informal support network, about their issues, she said.

"That's why we're trying to get communities to develop networks so they can identify these people and so they can better utilize their resources, so it's not redundant," she said.

According to Siegel, an example of a program that has been successful in establishing these networks is called Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program for communities in Minnesota.

"They've gone out to each community around their armories and asked them to create an action plan, where the communities bring all their resources together - fire department, schools, non-profits, health system. And they all get together and talk about what they can do to support service members and families," Siegel said, describing the program.

One of the results of this action plan created by a community-based network, she said, was an increase in approved health care providers, especially in the rural areas. Communities in the state, led by community members such as the mayors, and health and safety officials, went out to doctors, clinics and hospitals and asked them to sign up as providers.

"They've actually gotten to the point where Tricare said, 'We can't take any more from Minnesota. We already have too many,'" she said.

Guard members and their families are encouraged to contact the nearest FAC or A&FRPM so they can speak with a family resource specialist who can connect them with the best available federal or state services, and local community networks, who can help meet their specific need.

 

FAC and A&FRPM locations, emails and phone numbers can be found on the Joint service Support Web Site at: https://www.jointservicessupport.org/ResourceFinder/SearchResource.aspx

Second in a two-part series