WASHINGTON — Military leaders are working hard to create the same kind of support network for the reserve components that exists for the active duty, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen made the comments as part of his regular podcast to troops. Joined by his wife, Deborah, who frequently meets with military families, the couple discussed stresses on military families and efforts to alleviate them.
National Guard members and reservists have added challenges after being activated for deployments, in that many live in communities without the support found on military bases, often with children who are the only military kids in their school, Mrs. Mullen said. “Our Guard and reservists tend to be great distances from military installations and have no mutual peer support in their schools and their communities,” she said.
Too often, Guard and reserve members return from deployment and are “thrust back into civilian life without time to adjust,” she said. But good programs exist, she added, such as the Army Reserve’s “Fort Family” program with 24/7 phone support and the “Coping With Deployment” program by the American Red Cross, which operates throughout the country.
As he travels across the country to speak about addressing servicemembers’ and veterans’ needs, Mullen said, he is struck by “the universal constant” that all communities want to help. He said he hopes to “knit up” the efforts of the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs with those communities to provide a continuum of support.
It can be hard for communities to identify veterans and Guard and Reserve families in need, and “we worry about those who don’t connect up with community services,” Mrs. Mullen said, noting that women veterans with children are the most quickly rising group of homeless veterans.
The increase in Guard and reserve support programs today from when the wars began nine years ago “is night and day,” the admiral said, “but it’s still not enough.” He said he is less interested in adding programs than he is in making sure the current programs are effective. Improving programs is important so that servicemembers “have a life ring to grab onto,” he said.
The couple also spoke of the need for vigilance among military members and their families to identify signs that a person may be suicidal. As she meets with military families, Mrs. Mullen said, spouses increasingly ask for training not just in how to detect potential signs of suicide in servicemembers, but also in their civilian family members. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800-723-TALK is a valuable resource for such information, she said.
The chairman noted that even as the department puts more resources into curbing suicides, the cases continue to rise. He said he believes the problem is tied to repeated deployments and servicemembers not getting enough time at home, which he said will improve as troops draw down from Iraq.
“We find our military members have been incredibly resilient in the last nine years, yet we have to give them the opportunity to release some of that stress,” he said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)