Now that you've accepted the responsibility of caring for a service member's family during deployment, you may be surprised to discover the many military resources and support programs available to support you in this role.
Be sure you have been given a written power(s) of attorney by the service member
A power of attorney is a document that allows you to act as the legal agent for the service member and his or her family members. Understand that your authority will be limited to the specific language and permissions granted in the power of attorney document. A power of attorney is not the same as guardianships, which can only be granted by a court. Be sure that you and the service member parent have a shared understanding of what authority you need to be provided and what time period the power of attorney will cover (most documents will expire after one year). The authority granted by the power of attorney may include the ability to:
- Consent for emergency medical treatment for the child if a parent cannot be immediately reached
- Authorize all necessary medical treatment including surgery and hospitalization
- Sign documents in connection with care and medical treatment
- Provide for the education, welfare, shelter and safety of the child
- Enroll a child in school or sport activities
- Perform any parental acts regarding discipline and supervision
Using support services
The Family Readiness System is the network of programs, services, people and agencies, and the collaboration among them, that promotes the readiness and quality of life of service members and their families. You can access many of these services even if you do not live near a military installation.
Some access points for service include the installation Military and Family Support Center, National Guard and reserve family programs, Military OneSource (800-342-9646), the Joint Family Support Assistance Program and local community organizations. Regardless of your service branch or geographic location, you will have access to helpful support and resources. If the access point you choose does not have what you need, simply request help finding it.
Some of the available services for military families are as follows:
- Commissary and exchange - You'll be required to show your agent letter of authorization plus a family member's ID card to make purchases. Keep in mind that you may only shop for the family members in your care.
- Child and youth programs - Military children in your care are eligible for all of the child and youth programs offered at the installation including child care programs, child care resource and referral, after-school care and activities for youth.
- Military treatment facility - Family care plans should give details about health care for the family members. If the family members in your care receive health care and/or prescriptions from an installation MTF, you'll need a power of attorney that allows you to make medical decisions on their behalf in the service member's absence.
- Legal assistance - You may use the free services of the installation legal assistance office for routine legal matters related to the military family members in your care (though you will not be entitled to services for yourself unless you are a service member, dependent spouse, retiree or are otherwise entitled to military legal assistance). You should call first to make an appointment and find out what you need to bring. You can use the Armed Forces Legal Assistance Locator to find the legal assistance office nearest to you.
- Leisure and recreational activities - Every installation has a Morale, Welfare and Recreation program with many opportunities to have fun and develop new skills.
The best way to find or learn more about the installation nearest you is to use the locator tool at the MilitaryINSTALLATIONS website. You'll find details about what each of the programs above has to offer and how to call or locate them on the installation. You can also get this information by going to the specific installation website.
Helping children cope with separation
Your greatest challenge as a caregiver may be helping children adjust to the parent's absence and cope with their feelings that may include fear, anxiety and loss. The impact of deployment separation on individual children will vary depending upon their age, personality, level of maturity and experience with past deployments.
Some excellent resources have been developed to help parents and caregivers offer support and reassurance to children coping with separation from a parent. You'll find free CDs, DVDs, booklets and articles at Military OneSource or you can call 800-342-9647 and ask that they be sent to you in the mail.
Here are some other resources to help children cope with separation:
Military OneSource support
Military OneSource is a resource for service members and their families to help them with the challenges of military life. As a person with legal responsibility for a service member's family members, you're entitled to use the programs and services offered by Military OneSource at no cost. They include:
- Telephone or email consultation - Expert consultants are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to help you find answers to questions and solve problems. Consultants can give information resources and education material as well as referrals to support services, counseling or other resources in your community. Just call 800-342-9647.
- Non-medical counseling for issues related to your care-provider role - If you face difficulties or feel overwhelmed by stress in your new role, you can see a professional counselor in your area at no cost for up to 12 sessions per issue. If you aren't able to participate in face-to-face non-medical counseling, you can ask for non-medical counseling by phone or online. All options are confidential.
- Online information and support resources - Military OneSource has resources on many topics of interest to military families, including articles, booklets, CDs and videos that you can download or order at no cost.
Taking care of yourself
Taking over the care of a deployed service member's family can feel like an enormous responsibility for many caregivers. It's easy to not tend to your own needs when you're focused on helping others. But your health and well-being are essential for your new role. Be sure to take care of yourself through healthy habits such as eating right, getting enough rest, exercising and making time for friends and activities you enjoy. The Military OneSource Health and Wellness Coaching program can help. You can call Military OneSource at 800-342-9647 for more information.