Sunday, March 22, 2009

War and the American Family

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.

-Kayla Harding

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.

-Kaitlyn Wechsler

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.

-Whitney Jewett

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?



  1. To answer the question on what advice I would give to a child who's parent is being deployed:

    I think that it would be important for the child to get as much support and love from as many people as they can. So I think it would be great if teachers, and coaches for example would make time to talk with child just to check in and touch base on how the child is dealing with the deployment. ( Also it would be nice if the teacher or coach offered an ear to listen or to be there to come talk to whenever the child needed some support.) I think this would be helpful because the child might not feel comfortable talking with family members about the bad feelings because it is clearly a problem the whole family is dealing with. Sometimes it helps to have an outside support system other than the family and the teacher or coach could be that person and to provide an objective view, too.
    I don't think there is much more to say than to offer support because the reality is nobody knows that their parent will be ok and there are no answers when it comes to war. So the best thing someone could do for that child is to be there for them unconditionally, good days and bad days and be a support system for them.

    -Taylor Faulkner

  2. To answer the question what advice I would give to military personnel who are returning home to help them readjust to family life, and what advice to give to their families:

    Perhaps the least obvious, but most important, advice one can give to military personnel who are returning home is to not expect to be too involved in the day-to-day lives of their children or other family members immediately after returning home. In any deployment, but especially in a time of war, it could be months, even over a year, since you were last living a "normal" life. In that time, children and spouses have devised schedules and routines to keep the family and the household functioning. It can be very disruptive to everyone, but especially small children, if their whole life is completely changed the minute you come home. I think it is best to take a period of self-adjustment, to get used to being home first before you take on too many familial responsibilities. That's not to say that I think children and parents returning from deployment shouldn't spend time together. I think parents and children should spend a lot of time together upon the parents return, but I think this should, at least at first, be just about getting to know each other again, spending time together and having fun. I think it is too much too ask a parent that has been away to immediately step into the role of disciplinarian and a child who hasn't seen them to respect their authority.
    Additionally, I would advise those returning home to actually go 'home.' In the military, individuals and families are frequently required to move, often far away from their families and friends. Coming back to the U.S. doesn't mean coming back to any place where you have a sense of connection. 'Home' is often the place where one grew up, where one's parent's live, etc. Returning to one's family is more meaningful if one can also go home and engaging with extended family networks and old-time friends. This can be a very grounding experience for anyone, and I think would be especially helpful to someone who is returning to the U.S. after being away for sometime. Friends and family remind us of where we came from, and connect us to a larger understanding of ourselves and our place in this world. I think war forces people to loose or give up some of themselves, their identity, sense of morality, and even innocence. Being in a place and among people that can remind one of better times and of when one had a better sense of self can be therapeutic to someone who is searching for a way to be themselves again.
    To family members who have a member of the military returning home, my advice is to give them a chance to readjust, and don't expect too much from them too quickly. One's immediate reaction is naturally going to be to make them tell you everything they remember about where they were, what they did, who they were with, what they saw. it can take a long time to process the experience of being in war, and your returning family member may not want to tell you every gory detail of their experience. They may not be able to deal with some of the things they saw or did, or may be too ashamed to tell you. Do not bombard them with immediate questions, but just enjoy having them safe and home again. In time, they will tell you what they want you to know of the experience, anything else should just be left alone. If you see that they are troubled but do not want to talk to you about it, help them find a licensed professional who can. One in four homeless people in America are veterans (mostly who have served in wars) and they end up homeless because they are unwilling or unable to receive help for dealing with the trauma they've experienced in war. Instead of counseling, many turn to drug and/or alcohol abuse, and eventually end up on the streets. We should try to learn from what has happened to vets from previous wars and prevent veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from going down the same slippery-slope. Of course, the U.S. government should be doing a lot more to support veterans and their families than they are currently doing. If there was more emphasis on caring for all vets as soon as they get home, not just those with physical injuries, than collectively as a society, we could deal with the psychological trauma that causes PTSD, anxiety, depression, insomnia,drug and alcohol abuse, etc. It is THESE conditions that lead to people not being able to function in 'normal' society, and leads them to loose their jobs, their families and eventually become homeless. Families can only do so much individually to help one of their own adjust to life after being in war, but we need a more comprehensive plan to help all families and returning military personnel get through this transition. We need more social policy specifically designed to help facilitate this return, and deal with any emotional/psychological trauma that may have been experienced.

    -Devin D. Smith

  3. Do you think the government provides enough assistance for military families? How do you think these benefits affect families?

    Before reading this blog, I was unaware of all the forms of assistance provided by the government for military families. The financial assistance provided is quite generous compared to other government based policies. The government housing provided is a way to ensure stability in a family who has one member that is constantly missing. The financial assistance provided for funding a college education enables military families to advance their status in society. Although the financial compensation for funeral costs of a dead military person is generous, I hope this would also include financial assistance for counseling and/ or support groups for the surviving family members. In my opinion, the only policy mentioned that needs adjustment is the Family Medical Leave Act. Although the 26 weeks of leave allowed for the family member of a military person who has been called to active duty or returned with an injury exceeds the leave for any other circumstance under this act, the fact that it is an unpaid leave would make it impossible for many people to take advantage of it, as Kayla mentioned. I believe that there should be additional Government subsidies to support family members who wish to take advantage of the Family Medical Leave Act.

  4. To answer the question on social policy...

    I am glad to see that there are so many programs in place for military families, although they may sound better than they actually are. I never really thought about military families and the different things they have to face with a loved one being deployed. Even when my boyfriend told me he was going to enlist, I didn't really think about the consequences, other than the possibility that he could be deployed within the next couple of years. It wasn't until I went to his graduation from AIT and saw a presentation about military families, that the reality of everything hit me. Since this isn't a typical hurtle that a family has to get over, they have no way of preparing, or no idea what to expect. I'm glad there are a lot of programs to help financially support these families, but I would like to know what there is in terms of support groups to help cope with the social and emotional challenges that these families have to face. Families need support to help them prepare for a potential deployment, then they need support for coping with everyday life during the absence of that loved one, and then the need support for the aftermath. If a soldier is able to return home safely, there is a chance that they will have changed, so not only will the family have to adjust to reintegration, but that person may not even be the same, so the old challenges in the family may be replaced by new ones which may be more or less difficult. I know that even basic training changed little things about my boyfriend, so that he took things more seriously, and he began to mature at a faster pace than I was.
    I think that if families were able to meet up and talk with other military families in support groups, it would help prepare them for the challenges and also help them learn how to get through things. This is where families need the most support, and it isn't support that they can find from their friends and family, as much as they would like to help. They need to be able to talk to people who are going through the same experience or have lived through it. This is a different kind of support that needs to be provided to keep families strong during times that are so difficult.

    -Christina Comeau

  5. To answer the question about giving advice to the children of parents who have been deployed:

    I think that it is critical to understand that children are not as delicate as they are thought of to be. Many children find it hard to cope simply because no one is telling them anything of substance. I have observed the frustration and resentment that children who are feeling 'out of the loop' develope when they know that they are being left out. This is why family should not be afraid to explain what they can to the child. I would tell these children that their emotions matter and that if they need to talk, or not talk, that that is ok. Both the family unit and the school they are attending should collaborate to make sure that the child is receiving the support that they need. All adults in the child's life should be aware of the situation and let it be known that they are available to discuss anything and everything. There are going to be good days and bad days and there should be no shame in either. Children may feel that if they are having a good time that they are not doing the right thing. This is not the case, but the psychological affects of feeling happy when one feels like one shouldn't be can be devastating. All ranges of emotions are normal and during stressful times can result in quite the roller coaster. Children of all ages should be given the chance to talk to a therapist, but only if they want to. Family should also learn to not isolate themselves and try to form even stronger bonds in order to create a better foundation of love and trust. Having a parent, or other family member, absent may feel like a hole that cannot be filled, but there are ways to work through the bitterness of abandonment. The family needs to remind the child that they are loved and cared for. And any contact between the child and the deployed family member should happen as often as possible to retain the bond.

    -Grace Maskell

  6. Christina, thank you so much for giving your personal experience we really appreciate it. I just wanted to let you know that when I was looking up research for this blog I found a lot of sites that were basically for families and friends to talk to other familes going through the same thing as them. It seemed like a really great idea to me so it might be helpful for you and other families as well.

  7. I never knew how much support the government gave to military families. I think that this is great and I believe that it is definately beneficial for the families to have all of this support. I think that there could always be more help from the government but this is definately a good amount. I feel that these benefits help families tremendously, especially with what they are going through. With the help from the government, I still think that it is a very hard thing to have to deal with. I feel that talking is the best that the family can do. The government can help with all of the financial issues which is better then nothing at all.

    Brianne Caira

  8. Do you think the government provides enough assistance for military families? How do you think these benefits affect families?

    I think that it is great that the government provides some assistance for military families, but as Christina mentioned, the descriptions of these policies sometimes seem to be more impressive than the actual support that they provide. To begin with, the housing programs need to be made more available and have shorter waiting periods. If a military family cannot afford a house without support, especially in our current economically difficult times, they may be forced into homelessness for these few years of being on a housing waiting list. Also, I agree with Julie that the Family Leave Act, as commendable as it is, needs to be expanded to include pay while family members take time off from work. Without paid leave, this act is virtually useless to many lower-income military families, who cannot afford to take that much unpaid time off from work. Furthermore, I wonder if many of the programs that Kayla mentioned, that are intended to support military families, are widely advertised, or if families must discover them for themselves through extensive research. If the latter is the case, then many military families with lower levels of education (who are often poor minorities), may not even be aware that these services exist, or may not know how to apply for them.

    In addition, I think that it is incredibly unreasonable and unjust that veterans with disabilities are forced to wait 12-15 years, and sometimes even longer, to have their claims approved, in order to receive disability support. How is a veteran, who is unable to work due to a severe disability acquired during the war, supposed to support his or her family during that unbelievably long waiting period? Lastly, the government definitely does not provide enough mental health services for military families, which often negatively affects the family in a variety of ways. There needs to be higher quality mental health services that are also more accessible to military families. Furthermore, efforts should be made to remove the stigma attached to receiving mental health services. In fact, it may even be beneficial for a certain number of counseling sessions to be mandatory for those who have lost a family member in the war. The government should increase funding and improve all of its services for military families in order to give those who serve in our armed forces the respect they deserve for risking everything for our country.

    - Amy Diamond

  9. I think that even if military members are not given an official diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, the experience of war effects them psychologically. Families shouldn't expect a person to come home after war unchanged, because it's impossible to be. The risk of death, injury and witnessing both on the opposing side, as well as with other soldiers you've become friends with, are taxing. I'd advise families to give the military members space, and not try to force them to talk about the experience or their emotions.
    It's also common to deny having PTSD, and thus people don't get help. There's a stigma surrounding mental disorders. People don't want to show what they perceive to be weakness. I think getting help for PTSD is very noble, and often necessary. The families' views of therapy may also influence whether someone will seek treatment.

  10. I think it is important to provide multiple supports in a situation of a parent being deployed to the child or children involved. Children can rely on other extended family members such as grandparents or aunts and uncles. I believe this support from adults close to them can really help the child feel comforted and loved in the absence of a parent. Of course constant contact with the deployed parent is very important as well and it is easier now more than ever to get in touch with those we love who are far away. Email, webcam, phone calls, even "snail mail" can help the child stay connected. It is also important for the family to be open to talking about feelngs and questions. Making the situation realistic for the child without exactly telling all the frightening details can also better prepare the child for the variety of circumstances that could result.
    Another way to help the child cope is to encourage them to participate in extra cirricular activities such as sports or an after-school program that engages them and takes their mind off of what is happening with their parent. However, of course the child shouldn't bury these very real feelings and talk to a professional if needed.

    -Rhyanna Anderson

  11. In response the question on benefits provided:
    The military readily makes available benefits to lure military personnel into service. Yet, it can take twelve to fifteen years for a disability claim approval in the chance of injury (physical or mental). This makes absolutely no sense. The benefits that Kayla spoke of in her section on social policy, at a glance are extremely appealing. The benefits offered up front certainly do help many families, in the common case that the parent in service returns healthy. Having housing stipends and financial help with their education gives many more possibilities for the family as a whole. The issue is that when the personnel become veterans and really need the financial help due to injury or unstable mental health, they aren’t always given what is necessary (as explained in Whitney’s section). This is an extremely dishonest system that leaves a trail of broken families in its wake. Though having military is obviously necessary in such a conflict based global society, there is certainly a better way of going about this process. Some countries (i.e. Switzerland, Israel) require that all citizens undergo military training and work for some amount of time in the military. If this were the case, the money that is spent luring in youth could be spent rehabilitating the veterans who need assistance. This may not specifically be the right solution, but leaving families to fend for themselves after dedicated service to one’s country just seems cruel.
    -James Nutter

  12. To answer the question on what advice I would give to a child who's parent is being deployed:

    Personally, I only know a handful of people who have been deployed and also have children. The rest are young, fresh out of school graduates.As mentioned, we are not the only country which is affected by the war. I lived in Israel between the age of 5 and about age 8.5. War there is like the daily news team which you expect everyday, at the same time, at the same station to be on.There are bomb shelters within an estimate of every ten homes, professionals come to your home every great while to ensure that everyone's gas masks are fit and working properly, as well as machines that siren through the streets when everyone is suppose to drop everything they are doing and dart over to their assigned bomb shelter(unless one is built inside of your home) teenagers of all ages and sex's are required to enroll in the army upon completion of secondary ( or high ) school. It is a federal law. Soldiers roam the streets, schools, and in addition to practicing fire drills at school, children of all ages proactive "bomb" shelter drills. As horrible of an effect that war can have in ANY country,to support a child who's parent is away is best supported though technology, letters, and constant positive correlation of the army, the deployed by the guardians/ parents and the rest of the child's support system. We need to truthfully explaining to the child what is going on, whether they understand it or not, it has to be explained. If the child has a question, they will ask!!! encouraging children to send pictures, run programs and ask for local funding to send the troops such as gifts, or anything that will remind them of home is critical(not just to their relative who is there) This helps a child understand that there are people all over the country and the world devoting themselves to our protection. There is no telling what the effect of a deployed parent will have on a child. From what my eyes have seen, and knowing that there are millions of billions of other children who grow up with parents who were in a war, we can only be thankful that in America, we have such courage's people who volunteer to join the army.

  13. To begin, a child who's parent is being deployed should never be left in the dark about the situation. I believe it is important that the whole family sit down and discuss deployment and what that means for the parent who is leaving, and the family he or she is leaving behind. All members of the family, including all children should be given a chance to voice their feelings on the situation. People close to the Child should be keyed on to any changes that occur in the mood and attitude of the child. It is imperative that the child knows that they have a support system to rely on when they are feeling confused, upset, or hopeless about the situation.

  14. I think that for troops that have yet to be deployed should be educated in how they will return and given examples or troops who have returned from war so that they are not completely out of the loop when they do return. Just as when I studied abroad we were coached on how we would have to readjust, I think that troops are often not given the initial resources they need to prepare themselves mentally. With that said I am glad to hear that the troops who return home are met with aid and services. I agree that they could be improved and revamped to actually meet all the needs of these soldiers. I never considered this before reading this post as I do not know anyone in the army currently. I think the length of time to approve a disability claim is embarrassingly sad however, and should be changed immediately for the brave men and women who fight for us and then need to lean on us for help in return.

    -Caitlin Richelson