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Military Families Struggle With Dwindling Resources

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Service members and their families can have a tough time getting help with mental health issues or arranging childcare. They've been able to turn to independent and nonprofit groups for assistance, but as deployments increase, some of those groups are becoming strained, too. Host Scott Simon speaks to Kristina Kaufmann, an advocate for military families, about how families are coping with the military service of their loved ones.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Service members and their families can have a tough time flagging problems within the chain of command. There's red tape; there's the risk of being labeled some kind of troublemaker. They might turn to independent and nonprofit groups for say, mental health-care services or arranging child care. But as deployments have increased, some of those groups are becoming strained too.

Kristina Kaufmann joins us in our studios. She is an advocate for military families. Thanks so much for being with us.

SIMON: Thank you. Happy to be here.

SIMON: We should explain you're married to a member of the armed services.

SIMON: I am. We met, actually, the only place that a girl that went to Berkeley and a guy that went to West Point could go: Vegas. Apparently, what happens in Vegas doesn't always stay there because I ended up in the Army.


SIMON: Well, thank you for joining us today. You wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post earlier this year about what the U.S. military might do to help families. You mentioned an old Army saying: If the Army had wanted you to have a family, they would have issued you one.

SIMON: You know, we all laugh when we hear that, and we are in the most married military we've ever had. Soldiers come with families, and if you have a broken family, you're going to have a broken soldier. So that's kind of why I wrote the op-ed.

SIMON: Let me ask you about children. To say and to know my mommy or daddy is putting their life in harm's way, that's got to be difficult for a youngster.

SIMON: You know, they just look lost sometimes. Other than bringing mommy or daddy home, anything else that we can do to make it easier for them, we need to do.

SIMON: We're talking to Kristina Kaufmann, who's an advocate for military families. And I want to bring this up very carefully, because we've seen stories about - it seems to be a perceptible increase in some suicides in some branches of the service. There have been suicides among family members too, haven't there?

SIMON: I hesitate to talk about it really openly because it's such a private thing. I know people that have taken their own lives, and in one case, a spouse took her life and her two kids' life when her husband was deployed. And I remember thinking to myself, you know, her husband had a pretty high rank. She knew what services were available to her, yet she still made that choice.

Now, the mental health component directed toward the spouses, and the kids especially, is going to be very, very important as we move forward.

SIMON: And what about reservists? I doubt, maybe since World War II, we've had such a huge number of reservists deployed.

SIMON: I've been an active-duty Army wife for eight years. We've always been connected to an installation. Guard and Reserve families, though, they are out living in your communities and they are separated from those of us who kind of are living the same life. So I think there's an isolation that they feel, not just from the active-duty community but from their own community as well. I think that's one of the things that the states could get better at doing - is recognizing what families are serving.

And that's where you could really get some of that connection, I think, where you have maybe three or four kids in an entire school whose soldiers are deployed, or parents are deployed. The school should know that, and there should be a way for them to know that - and the neighbors.

So we're doing better. Congress came up with this yellow ribbon reintegration program that DOD has now adopted. And that basically provides a predeployment are redeployment kind of event so that the families can, you know, connect. So I think that's been valuable. Again, it's implementation and across the board how things are working.

SIMON: How can civilian families help in the most practical ways?

SIMON: You know, there are a lot of great initiatives that are happening up here, and some new groups that are springing up. But in the practical sense, it's great even just getting a thank you, you know? When my husband's in uniform, he actually gets thanked a lot, but it's hard to identify who those military families are.

Blue Star Families actually has a project; you can write a letter of appreciation to a military family. And getting one of those would be fabulous. You know, just to know that people understand, or at least want you to know that they're appreciative of your sacrifice, not just your soldier's. Type in military families into Google, or helping military families, or go to Blue Star Family Web site. There are ways to help. You just have to put your thinking cap on and research them.

SIMON: Kristina Kaufmann, an advocate for military families, thanks very much for joining us.

SIMON: Thank you.

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