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Military Kids Suffer Emotional Problems from Parents’ Deployment


Children in military families may experience more emotional and behavioral problems when compared with other American youths, according to a RAND Corporation study. These difficulties are more pronounced the longer the parents’ deployment.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have placed undue stress and hardships on military families, from the soldiers themselves to their partners, children, and extended families. Repeat deployment has been identified as a significant stress factor and contributor for mental health issues for soldiers, including the rising number of suicides.

According to a CNN article from February 5, 2009, Col. Kathy Platoni, chief clinical psychologist for the Army Reserve and National Guard, commented on the number of suicides among Army soldiers alone, which reached 117 in 2007 (plus 934 nonfatal attempts), 140 in 2008, and a spike in suicides in the opening months of 2009. Col. Platoni noted that multiple deployments, and interruption of mental health therapy because of deployments, were among the reasons for soldiers taking their lives.

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The children of military personnel also are suffering mental health difficulties related to their parents’ deployment. The RAND survey examined the well-being of 1,500 children ages 11 to 17 from military families and questioned both the children and the non-deployed parent or other caregivers. The people surveyed were drawn from those who had applied in 2008 for the National Military Family Association’s “Operation Purple” camp, whose mission is to help children cope with the stresses of war. This study is the largest to date to evaluate how military children fare socially, emotionally, and academically during a prolonged wartime, and especially during their parents’ deployment.

The RAND survey found that children from military families reported significantly higher levels of emotional problems than children in the general population. One-third of the military children said they had symptoms of anxiety, which is somewhat higher than that seen in other studies of children. The older children surveyed had more difficulties with school and more behavior problems, while younger children reported more symptoms of anxiety. Although girls had fewer problems in school and with their friends, they were more anxious than boys.

Currently there are about 2 million US children who have a parent in an active or reserve component of the military. About 95 percent of the children surveyed had experienced at least one parental deployment over the three years before the study started, and nearly 40 percent had a parent deployed at the time the survey was conducted.

The results of this study show that a significant number of these military children suffer emotional and behavioral problems associated with their parents’ deployment. In addition, “our findings suggest that the more time parents are away, the more likely it is that children will experience problems,” according to Sandraluz Lara-Cinisomo, one of the study’s authors and a RAND researcher. And according to Col. Platoni in the CNN article, “when people are apart you have infidelity, financial problems, substance abuse and child behavioral problems. The more deployments, the more it is exacerbated.”

CNN Report, Feb. 5, 2009
Levin A. Psychiatric News 2008 Jun 20; 43(12): 1
RAND Corporation