With the current war reaching its sixth anniversary this month, many people have forgotten its existence, but we need to remember that there are still families and combatants who are living with this war present in their everyday lives. Going into this project no one in our group really knew about the affects that the war is having on families, so we used this assignment as an opportunity to research more about it. We should remember that we are not the only country in this war, and our families are not the only families dealing with these issues, but for this project we chose to focus on the American family. There are many topics that we could have focused on in relation to the American family, but we chose to research specifically social policy, the affects on children and spouses, and the adjustments of a military member returning home.
The military helps support it’s members by granting benefits to those enlisted and their families. The government provides family advocacy, parenting programs, financial management, spouse employment and education aid, and youth programs. These free services give help, strengthen the family dynamic and act as a support system. They also provide legal assistance and free healthcare without co-payments. The military offers families government housing, housing stipends, and/or housing on military bases to ensure they are able to remain stable even when there is constant relocation. This isn’t always the case in that the waiting lists are long for housing, as well as some of the other benefits, and it can take years to get a house. For those whose family member dies in active duty there are survival benefits such a burial compensation and continued access to current benefits. This allows families who have suffered a great loss help financially cope with the death. Other benefits also include discounts on everything from food to airline tickets.
There are also some bills that have been passed that directly affect military families. One is the post 9/11 GI Bill which will pay for college tuition, books, and housing stipends while in school. This allows for the family to advance so that they can be supported financially through furthering their access to higher paying careers. Also there is the Thrift Savings Plan established from the Federal Employees Retirement System Act of 1986. This allows for families to set up retirement funds and 401k so that they can have stability down the road. The last major bill that affects military families directly is The Family Medical Leave Act which Bush amended to include those in the military. A family member can take off work for up to 26 weeks without threat of job loss if their family member is called to active duty or returns from active duty with an injury. This is helpful for the huge adjustment periods of leaving and coming home for military families. This does not include pay which may limit who can use this support.
Today we are facing a time when our country is dealing with a situation of global conflict and unrest. Because of this, many military personnel are being deployed to foreign countries or different places in the United States. These people are often taken away and separated from their families for long periods of time. Families that have to go through this sort of separation often face challenges and sometimes stress and anxiety. It is a change that impacts a child’s life forever.
For a child it may be harder to adapt to a parent being away at war. There are specific signs that children may possess that are a direct result of this separation. Every age group has certain signs that parents should be aware of. For infants (birth-12 months), they may react to the disruptions in their schedules by eating less, losing weight and being very sensitive. For toddlers (1-3 years), they may be overly sensitive, throw temper tantrums or have problems sleeping. For preschoolers (3-6 years), they become aware that their parent is missing and may be delayed in potty training. They might sleep off schedule, have physical complaints or suck their thumbs. For them it becomes more personal because they might think, “Daddy doesn’t love me” or “Mommy is angry at me, that’s why she is gone.” For school age children (6-12 years), they are aware of the realities to why their parent is away and also know the dangers that go along with it. They may become aggressive and whiny, and fearful that their parent might be injured or die. For teenagers (13-18 years), they may become rebellious, irritable and challenging. Some signs are sexual acting out and drug or alcohol abuse.
These are important signs that people need to recognize when working with children. They can be helped through the situation if proper measures are taken. It is important that people show that they care for these children or the situation will only become worse. There are a few ideas that will hopefully ease the stress for any child dealing with a parent being away at war. Always talk as a family, letting out any anxiety, worries, or feelings that may be going on inside. Always continue family traditions, structure and discipline. Allow the child to communicate with their deployed parent in any way possible. Encourage honesty and never make promises that you cannot keep. These are some things that will hopefully help children get through this rough time.
READJUSTMENT INTO FAMILY LIFE
As of last year, more than 55% of soldiers in this war were married and nearly 513,000 soldiers on active duty collectively had more than 493,000 children. This shows how the American family is evolving in relation to this war and how much it affects them, especially when their family member comes home. It is encouraged that family members discuss how they felt about the separation.
According to a study done by Virginia Tech researchers, after holding 14 focus groups with 107 youths to talk about their views of deployment, 42 kids said a military parent’s return led to a tough post-deployment reintegration.
Army Maj. Keith Lemmon, a pediatrician at Madigan Army Medical Center, said, “There’s a lot of attention on the mental health of returning troops, but children and families seem to be receiving less.”
Sylvia Kidd, director of family programs for the Association of the U.S. Army said it takes “about a year to reintegrate into the family.” And about families who experience multiple redeployments, which is very common in this war specifically, she said, “It would be one thing if they were able to spend weeks at home to rebuild that link, but they can’t.” More than a half million people have been deployed two or more times. This increased awareness of the dangers of deployment can wear on the family. As they are trying to reintegrate, they are thinking about when they are going to leave again.
Children’s responses to their parent coming home from war are influenced by their developmental level. Toddlers might not remember the parent well, so they may act shy or strange around them. School-age children may not understand their returning parent’s need to take care of themselves and to spend time with their spouse. Teens might seem distant as they continue their activities with their friends. Children who’ve grown accustomed to the soldier’s absence, naturally turn to the other parent for everything.
Couples might find that the deployment has strained their relationship. Family problems that existed before the deployment usually reappear after they come home. The first week or so is like the honeymoon again, but then couple’s realize that the picture of their family and relationship they had before the deployment is not the same. Coming home is harder than going. Veterans often feel that they are an outsider in their own life.
About 80% of combat veterans who deal with the changes and challenges of coming home will adjust after universal periods of sleeplessness and anxiety, studies show. But a significant 20% of those continue experiencing these difficulties, with PTSD (post-trumatic stress disorder), depression, and alienation. Single soldiers face a less complex situation than those in relationships, but a potentially more isolating one. One study of 88,000 soldiers who had been to Iraq found that after six months, half of those who had shown symptoms of PTSD were free of them, but, there were twice as many new cases.
The rate of PTSD among veterans returning from Iraq range from 12%-20%. The younger the veterans are, the more likely they are to have health conditions. The most prevalent are PTSD, substance abuse, and depression.
In families, you see more marital problems, more behavioral problems in children, more family violence, and the potential for the generational transmission of violence.
This is also the first conflict in which women are serving in combat situations in large numbers. Although there hasn’t been much research on the difference between PTSD in men and women, it has been proven that when men and women are exposed to the same trauma, women are twice as likely to get PTSD.
Many families are also dealing with the return of their family member physically disabled, which poses a different experience on the adjusting family. Most disabled veterans cannot receive medical treatment without a disability claim approval, but the decision on a claim can take up to twelve to fifteen years. Some pending claims go back to the Vietnam era. Many veterans give up in despair or frustration, fall into drug or alcohol dependency, or commit suicide. Even when a claim is approved, they face ongoing problems with care because of long waiting lists due to the dramatic rise in demand for medical care because of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Military families, compared to non-military families, won’t seek out mental health services as much for many reasons. One is that they don’t want to be “found flawed,” even more so than non-military families. When the emotional and behavioral problems become too great, families might reach out to the mental health services of their insurance plans. Many military families experience uneven quality of services, problems of continuity of care, restrictions on the number of mental health sessions, or lack of freedom to choose what they want. Non-military families experience the same issues, but military families have a higher expectation of the quality of their care. They believe that serving and sacrificing for their country permits them better treatment. They feel hurt and disrespected. When these feelings become too painful, they often avoid seeking help altogether.
We must also remember those families who don’t have anyone returning home. Military spouses are usually viewed as hardy, “salt-of-the-earth” type of people who raise resilient children to endure relocations, absent parents, and emotional pain. When the death of a spouse and parent occurs, these families often experience shame in feeling weak, out of control, and emotional. They may feel like they are disappointing their spouse’s or parent’s legacy by crying or being too emotional.
Do you think the government provides enough assistance for military families? How do you think these benefits affect families?
What advice or help would you give to a child that was going through a situation in which a parent was being deployed?
What advice would you give to military members who are returning home, in order to adjust back to family life? What advice would you give to their family members?
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