For returning serviceman, a struggle to reconnect

Navy Cmdr. Randy Volkman found it wasn't easy to fit right back in when he returned home to his family.
CBS News

(CBS News) VANCOUVER, Washington - A Marine who was severely wounded in Afghanistan has arrived home in time for Memorial Day. A jet carrying 19-year-old Lance Cpl. Sean Adams landed near Gainesville, Georgia Friday night. Adams lost both legs in an IED explosion in February. On the tarmac, hundreds of people turned out to welcome him home.

The wounds of war are not always so visible, but they are painful, as a family in Vancouver, Washington learned.

Homecoming is the end of one journey, and the beginning of another. Randy Volkman didn't realize how much had changed.

"I look the same, I fit in the same clothes, so I must be the same guy," he said. "So how come all these other things are strange?"

Navy Cmdr. Volkman spent a year in the Middle East, assisting special operations forces. He came home to his wife, Lori, expecting to quickly fit back in. That was not to be.

"There was this honeymoon phase when they come home, and then the shininess starts to wear off," said Lori.

There had been deployments before in their 20-year marriage, but never for a year, and never with children. It was just as hard on the kids -- Cooper, 6, and Olivia, 9.

"My dad was gone and it was really hard for my mom and everything," said Olivia.

Signs of trouble started when Randy was still overseas and his e-mail answers shrunk to one word. That emotional disconnect lingered months after he came home.

"She would point out sometimes that -- she'll come home and I'll give the kids a hug and I won't give her a hug. I'll miss an opportunity to express myself emotionally to her," Randy recalled.

A lawyer, Lori continued her career while also solo-parenting.

"When he was gone I started writing ," she sad. "I helped start a non-profit. I have more skills than I thought I originally did."

But that created another problem -- fitting Randy back into her busy life. After months of strain, Lori moved out for several days.

"I didn't understand when he first came home that the loneliness wouldn't go away, right away," said Lori. "I realized that I didn't have anything to lose by waiting a little longer. And that's really the only thing that brought me back."

"These mobilizations change you," said Randy. "Maybe for the good, maybe for the worse. You don't know it right away necessarily, but nevertheless you change."

Randy still leaves home as a pilot for UPS. He missed his daughter's ninth birthday, just as he had missed her eighth while overseas. But this time, the family celebrated early, so dad could be there

"I would tell any spouse who is going through this is that time is your friend. Give it time," said Lori.

Time to help them re-discover what they once were -- stronger because they were together.