Army Closely Watching How Deployments Affect Children
October 21, 2008
Even without our country being involved in two wars on separate fronts, military life is not an easy life, for spouses and children of our Troops. Both spouses and children face repeated moves, which can have an impact on education and careers for spouses and education for children. Another impact is leaving friends behind. For children, that can be especially tough. Some find it difficult to make new friends, because of the frequent moves that come with being a part of a military family. These stressors are the normal everyday stressors that go along with have a family member in the military. Over the past 7 years, our country has been involved in wars on two fronts. The frequent deployments that go along with these wars, adds additional stressors upon the family.
Because of the additional stressors that frequent deployments cause, the Army is carefully watching to ensure that Army children don’t begin exhibiting mental health problems. Recent studies have shown that most military children are just as healthy and resilient as their civilian counterparts. However, because of the increased stress levels they’re watching closely, to see how multiple deployments and stressors such as their parent returning from combat with injuries, death of a parent or the parent returning with PTSD, affect military children. While studies are currently being conducted, most of the data in regards to how military children adjust to these sometimes life altering situations, comes from Desert Storm and earlier conflicts.
“Military deployments are changing and military deployments are different,” said Retired Col. Stephen J. Cozza MD, associate director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress. “First deployments can be different than second deployments and third deployments, so as we’re moving into increasing optempo … how do we better understand it?”1
Deployments increases stress not only on the Soldier and his or her spouse, but their children as well. These stressors can cause distraction and can be presented by the child becoming difficult to manage. When their parent deploys, some children become withdrawn, others may act out, especially during the early days of the deployment. According to Cozza, reports of child maltreatment and neglect rates also tend to rise during deployments.
By the time the parent returns home from their deployment, the family has often settled into a new routine. The Soldier, the spouse and the children then face the stress of having to readapt. This can be made more difficult, if the Soldier returns suffering from physical injuries or PTSD. Roles in the family are redefined when the parent returns back from deployment, which can be confusing to the children. You might see additional acting out when the parent returns.
“We know that the health of military families and Soldiers are interconnected,” Cozza said. “So if one is not doing well, it’s likely that the other is going to be powerfully impacted by that. There isn’t a whole lot of data in our military literature about the impact of psychiatric illnesses in parents, but we do know from the civilian literature that it can profoundly impact and impair children. It can disrupt parental roles. It can lead to child confusion and distortion about how they understand the changed behaviors they notice in parents and it can lead to increased risk behaviors, whether that has to do with domestic violence or substance misuse. PTSD itself is likely to be a significant and powerful impactor on relationships within families,” he said.2
This is something that should be followed closely. With some children, the impact may be seen very quickly and can be addressed right away. With other children, the impact of these stressors may not show up for many years, after the military member returns home from deployments. As with our Troops, where repeated deployments tend to increase the chance of PTSD, the stressors on the family of repeated deployments, can also have the same type of cumulative effect on the children. The Army is working hard to put additional family support programs in place, for the spouses as well as the children. It’s only right that this issue should be watched closely. Afterall, the children of today are our country’s future. It’s future leaders, future business people, it’s future Soldiers. Hopefully with these and other supports in place during and after deployments, our military children will be able to continue to adapt and continue to live their lives with little negative impact. Only time will tell.
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