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Sadler AG, Mengeling M, Torner J, Reisinger HS, Cretzmeyer MT, Franciscus CL, Silander AB, Booth B. Post-Deployment Adjustment Concerns of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom Reserve and National Guard Servicewomen. Paper presented at: VA HSR&D National Meeting; 2009 Feb 11; Baltimore, MD.
Objectives: Little is known about women's combat experiences and even less about the unique experiences and health of women serving in the Reserve and National Guard (R/NG). This study used qualitative methods to determine R/NG servicewomen's post-deployment adjustment concerns. Methods: Eight focus groups were held with groups of OEF/OIF-era Reserve/National Guard servicewomen in four Midwestern states (N = 39). Groups were stratified by Officer/Enlisted personnel and deployment status. The research team developed a coding dictionary of relevant themes. Transcripts then were independently coded by two researchers and entered into NVivo 8.0 for data management. Agreement between the coders was > 80% for the majority of codes. Results: Post-deployment adjustment was one of the most frequently coded themes across all eight focus groups (N = 73). Women noted family adjustment concerns, such as immediate immersion into parenting and negotiating changed family roles while they were still hyperaroused from deployment. Social support upon return was also problematic. Deployment with a unit other than one's home unit contributed to this concern. Women with traumatic experiences (combat or assault) stated that when they returned from a deployment they were unable to talk with their home unit peers because they did not share the same experiences. Most were also reluctant to discuss their deployment with civilian co-workers or friends. Driving anxiety was a routine concern, especially for women exposed to Improvised Exploding Devices. Many reported ongoing limitation in their ability to leave home. Notable were concerns about what to do about their own post-traumatic stress with regard to understanding symptoms and their duration, and potential career consequences of seeking help. Women of all ranks were troubled about how to appropriately address emotional distress demonstrated by peers and viewed this as a widespread occurrence. Implications: Family adjustment, social isolation, driving anxiety, and unmet mental health needs were consistent concerns for deployed R/NG women. Impacts: Women in the regular military return from deployment to an environment where combat is a common experience. R/NG servicewomen return to civilian lives with different everyday demands and without the same support networks. DVA outreach to educate and offer services to this unique population and their families is vital.