New program helps returning military members bridge the gap between battlefield and backyard

After 10 years of serving around the world in armed conflicts, members of the armed forces are returning home to families, civilian jobs and a life very different from the constant state of readiness they experienced overseas.

While most military members and their families will transition easily, others may need some assistance. In an effort to help foster positive reconnections between family members and help service members reintegrate into civilian life, the American Red Cross and Walmart have teamed up to offer a program called The Reconnection Workshops, presented by Walmart.

“The vast majority of our military personnel returning from deployment will successfully adjust to life after deployment,” says Dr. Marjorie Kukor, Ph.D., senior associate for mental health at the American Red Cross. “Others may experience some difficulty – reconnecting with their family, rejoining their workplace and re-engaging with their communities. They may appreciate having some support as they adjust to post-deployment changes.”

Some of the challenges service members and their families report encountering include:

* Readjusting to partners who assumed new roles during the separation

* Engaging children who have matured and may resent additional oversight

* Reestablishing bonds with spouses, partners and/or children

* Readjusting to the returning service members

* Realigning family decision-making processes

* Redefining family routines

* Coping with long-term health problems, such as injuries, post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, depression and other mental health concerns.

The Red Cross program allows service men and women and their families to choose those workshops that will help them successfully manage the transition from the field back into the routine of home life. This series of workshops is free, confidential and conducted in small-group sessions facilitated by volunteers who are licensed mental health professionals. The Walmart Foundation, the lead sponsor, awarded a $ 500,000 grant in support of the program.

The workshops are offered at Red Cross chapters throughout the country. Each workshop focuses on topics that service members and their families have found relevant to their experience as they transition back home. Topics include managing anger, supporting children, building communication, reconnecting with others, recognizing stress and trauma, and other topics critical to reunion adjustment.

“We’re proud of our nation’s heroes and are grateful for their service and sacrifice,” says retired Army Brigadier General Gary Profit, the senior director of military programs for Walmart. “We recognize that sometimes those sacrifices mean that their hardship doesn’t end once they’re back on the home front. We want to play a role in addressing unmet needs in the military community, so we’re proud to team with the American Red Cross, especially on the Reconnection Workshops. This will help bridge the gap that sometimes exists between the battlefield and the backyard.”

The series, developed in cooperation with military experts, is available to members of all branches of the Armed Forces, as well as National Guard, Reserves, veterans and their families.

The Red Cross has a long history of support to members of the service and their families, starting with Clara Barton’s work on the Civil War battlefields even before the American Red Cross was formed.

Today, the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces program provides assistance to more than 2 million service members as well as many of the nation’s 24 million veterans and their families, wherever they reside.

For three years, the Red Cross has offered its course Coping with Deployments: Psychological First Aid for Military Families to teach coping mechanisms and resilience skills to military families who experience the normal stresses and strains that occur when their service member deploys.

“We’ve seen just how helpful Coping with Deployments has been to individuals whose loved ones are deployed,” says Sherri Brown, senior vice president for service to the Armed Forces for the Red Cross. “We have heard from those families that they are seeking similar assistance when they come home, and we believe the Reconnection Workshops will help.”

In addition to the Coping with Deployments course and the new Reconnection Workshops, the Red Cross provides emergency communications linking service members with their families during times of crisis; comfort and care in military and veterans medical facilities; access to financial assistance in partnership with the military aid societies; information and referral to helpful resources; and assistance to veterans.

To learn more about this new, no-cost and confidential program, military service members, veterans and their families can visit or contact their local Red Cross office.