The Effect of War on Military Families
The U.S. has been involved in two wars overseas for close to two decades. The men and women of our military have been in harm’s way in Afghanistan since 2001. They’ve been in Iraq since 2003. Despite troop drawdowns in the past few years in both countries, we still have soldiers stationed in both places. And recent events in Syria and Iraq seem to be leading to another increase in our troop levels in Iraq and possibly other countries in the region.
We all know about the dangers of war for the soldiers directly involved. Loss of life and limb are the primary consequences, while re-integration issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety are secondary consequences. Most Americans are aware of these issues. In recent news, the mismanagement of the Veteran’s Affairs Hospital (VA) highlighted another fact. As a nation, we need to do a better job taking care of our soldiers after they return home from foreign wars. In addition to taking care of our soldiers upon their homecoming, there’s another area where we need to focus our energies: the mental and emotional health of the children and families of military personnel.
Wartime Deployment of Parents: The Effect on Children
In an article published in The Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers found that the wellbeing of adolescents whose parents were deployed in war time are at risk of several significant mental health challenges, such as low self-esteem, low levels of wellbeing and depression. The paper states:
“The findings in this study suggest that military-connected adolescents have much higher rates of feeling sad or hopeless than found in other national studies … In our study, 33.7% of adolescents with a parent and 35.3% with a sibling in the military reported feeling sad or hopeless for more than 2 weeks in the past 12 months.”
The findings of this study go further. The children of military families are at risk for more than depressive mood and low self-esteem. They’re also at greater risk for suicidal ideation. A recent article in the Huffington Post reports that military spouses also suffer from similar negative mental and emotional effects of overseas deployment during wartime.
Help for Military Families
The VA hospital has been embroiled in controversy for almost a decade. The waiting times for both medical care and psychological services can be incredibly long. In some cases, long enough to be nearly ineffective for those needing immediate care. This unfortunate state of affairs means it’s important that help for military families comes from sources other than the VA. Private, non-profit organizations such as the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, The National Military Families Association and The National Alliance on Mental Illness all offer resources for military families seeking help with mental health issues resulting from the overseas deployment of family members.
Perhaps the most encouraging private initiative to help military families and returning service members is an organization called Give an Hour. Give an Hour is a nationwide network of mental health providers. They volunteer their services to veterans and their families. There’s no hassle, no waiting time and, according to their website, no paperwork at all. For families navigating the challenges of bureaucracies, these services offer welcome relief.
Federal Assistance for Education
In addition to help from the private sector, the Department of Defense has stepped up. Thye offer support for the education of military families through their Military K-12 Partners Program. Since 2009, the DoD has given out close to $400 million dollars to local education agencies (LEA’s) connected to military families. These grants serve students directly through grants to schools and to teachers through professional development services. They serve families by offering resources that help with just about everything. The grants also help families find schools designed for military kids. They help manage health records and transfer transcripts. Also, they help with other challenges unique to military families who move many times during their children’s school careers.
It’s Up to All of Us
In the end, it’s our collective responsibility as a society to help ease the burden of our military families. If there’s any way we can offer a helping hand, we should do so. Either as a volunteer or as a friend. Also, it’s unlikely that members of military families will come right out and talk about their problems openly. It’s just not in their ethos. Therefore, we need to read between the lines. We need to understand that it’s statistically likely that if we know someone in a military family, or teach a child of military parents, we know someone who is facing challenges that we aren’t. And they may need our help.
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.