Last month, CIR faculty and staff attended the annual Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR) conference in Washington, DC. On Saturday, January 14, CIR sponsored a Special Interest Group luncheon which featured guest speaker Mrs. Deborah Mullen, military family advocate and wife of Admiral Mike Mullen.
Mrs. Mullen began her speech by reminding the audience that many thousands of military family members serve along with their servicemembers and worry every day about the safety and well-being of their loved ones. Furthermore, although military families take care of each other with great strength and dignity, the last ten years of deployment have stretched many of them to the limit. Mrs. Mullen addressed several issues that affect servicemembers, veterans, and their families, including:
Deployment cycle – Shorter times at home between deployments, exacerbated by training sessions that cut into the time a servicemember can spend with his/her family or re-adjust to civilian life, lead to greater stress for the entire family, to include anxiety, depression, and “secondary post-traumatic stress“.
Stigma – Military families often share the same stigma regarding mental health treatment as their servicemembers because they believe that getting help will have a negative impact on their servicemember’s career. Although more and more military families have started talking openly about getting mental health help, many others suffer in silence or self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.
Stress on military children – The impact of a lifetime of deployment and war on today’s military children is unknown, and may never be fully understood. There has been a rise in the number of psychiatric drug prescriptions for military children, which indicates heightened levels of stress from parental deployment and reintegration.
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) – The long-term effects of TBIs resulting from prolonged exposure to blasts from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are being studied, but are not well understood. Evidence from football and boxing brain injuries indicate that the effects of TBI, no matter the cause, are long-term and severe. The use of MRIs in the combat theater would help expand the knowledge and data available on concussive events from IED blasts, and may lead to new ways to treat or prevent these combat injuries.
Healing with family – For the first time in history, military families are relocating to live at the hospitals where their Wounded Warriors are recovering, and are helping care for them during their recovery. The presence of families is critical to the healing process for these servicemembers, as it lends added support and allows the family to heal together.
Military Sexual Trauma (MST) – Women make up 15% of the active duty military, and at least one in five are victims of MST—cases of which are vastly underreported—often at the hands of fellow servicemembers. This betrayal of trust, in addition to the stress of deployment and exposure to combat, can cause mental trauma which impedes the female servicemember’s mental health, career, and reintegration into family and civilian life. When these problems result in homelessness, women veterans with children have greater difficulty in finding shelters that can house families with young children.
Suicide – Suicide rates for servicemembers and veterans are rising, due to many different reasons that require further study, including previous trauma. Also, current suicide studies do not include spouses or family members of servicemembers and veterans and this data must be collected in order to examine the reverberating effects of deployment and reintegration on military families.
Loss and remembrance – Many military families suffer the ultimate loss—the death of their servicemember. These families need support from their communities during their time of mourning as well as help in remembering and honoring their loved one’s service and sacrifice.
Mrs. Mullen asserted that all of these issues affect not only servicemembers and veterans, but their families as well, and therefore studies of these topics must expand to include military family members, such as spouses and children. She offered the following list of topics as possible research areas:
- What is resiliency? How do we build resilience in military families and when do we begin? When and under what circumstances does resiliency begin to break down?
- What are the long-term effects of multiple deployments on the family? A longitudinal study on the impact of these deployments on children is needed.
- For children who have experienced long separations from a deployed parent – How will this affect their future relationship with that parent and their relationships with other people in their lives?
- What are the near-term and long-term effects of multiple deployments, PTS, TBI, or traumatic physical injury on reintegration into both civilian and family life?
- Why is this generation of veterans becoming homeless at a faster rate than those who became homeless after Vietnam?
- What are the effects of suicide on surviving family members?
- What will be the long-term effect on the children of homeless women veterans? How will a mother’s suffering from Military Sexual Trauma (MST) affect her children?
- How must the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs change and grow in order to adapt to the new needs of this generation of veterans?
- How must our communities prepare and adapt in order to fill the resources and services gaps for returning servicemembers, veterans, their families, and surviving families of the fallen?
CIR Policy Brief ADDENDUM:
“Together We Stand, Divided We Fall: Connectedness, Suicide, and Social Media in the Military”
This addendum to our most recent CIR Policy Brief, entitled “Together We Stand, Divided We Fall: Connectedness, Suicide, and Social Media in the Military,” includes feedback from several branches of the military regarding the link that is often made between deployment or combat exposure and suicide.
We are very grateful to the service representatives who contacted us and were willing to take the time and energy to clarify this issue. As always, we welcome and encourage feedback on our policy briefs–it is our intention to provoke dialogue on these issues in order to enhance our understanding of them and highlight needed changes.