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After Afghanistan, one unit's new mission: cope as civilians

Kurt Stepnitz
Michigan State University News

After a year's deployment in Afghanistan, 600 members of Michigan's National Guard are coming home. They'll join the ranks of 19,00 local Guardsmen and women who’ve served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But this particular unit will soon embark on a new mission. And this time, they're bringing their families.

For 3 years, the veterans, their spouses, and children will be part of a Michigan State University study on how families cope with life after combat.

Professor Adrian Blow is leading the study.  "We have hundreds of studies now on prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder, or substance abuse or things like that within the military. But very, very few studies that focus on how families cope."

In other words, we know the myriad problems military families face. What we don't know is what works; that is, what makes one military family more resilient than another. 

Blow says, sure, some of it's common sense: good communication, strong marriages, spending time with the kids... "But we're also going to be taking a deeper look by interviewing the families to kind of capture their stories, you know, about reintegration and their experiences with deployments. We want to get to some of that richer data, beyond just the numbers.”

They’ll also use the findings to train up to a thousand mental health counselors to work with veterans.

The study will focus first on the Metro-Detroit area before expanding to the Upper Peninsula, where many National Guard families live.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.