Academic journal article Military Review

Saving Military Families

Academic journal article Military Review

Saving Military Families

Article excerpt


MILITARY COMMANDERS who recognize the critical relationship between family readiness and mission readiness are deeply concerned about the high divorce rate of military couples, as well as increasing suicide rates among military active duty personnel and veterans. Evidence in 2008 indicates that the Department of Veterans Affairs downplayed both the number of successful suicides and attempted suicides by veterans. A number of military spouse and veterans groups believe that the divorce rate, as calculated by the Department of Defense, seriously underestimates the extent of marital problems in the armed services, particularly ongoing problems among those who have made multiple combat deployments.

Army chaplain Glen Bloomstrom, while serving as director of ministry initiatives for the Army Chief of Chaplains, reported that in an informal survey of Soldiers and their spouses or significant others conducted by the Army in February 2005, those surveyed rated the loss of a relationship as their top deployment concern--even above personal death or injury. A Navy chaplain's research, conducted while assigned to an operational Marine Corps battalion, supported this finding. Following his return from Iraq, the chaplain and a sergeant from his unit paid a visit to a comrade who had lost a limb from wounds sustained in combat. While driving back from their visit, the sergeant told the chaplain that he would gladly have suffered the loss of his own arm or leg rather than suffer the loss of his wife who was currently divorcing him and seeking custody of their son. At that point, the chaplain realized his unit had suffered copiously more "casualties" than actually appeared in official reports.

Soldiers and Marines have shouldered the burden of most of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Given the high stress levels endured among military families after years of multiple combat tours and lengthy deployments, it is no surprise that divorces among enlisted Soldiers and Marines reached a 16-year high in fiscal year 2008. There were nearly 1,000 more divorces among enlisted Soldiers in 2008 than in 2007.

Chaplains who counsel service members with marital problems are familiar with the negative impact that deployments and the stressful realities of military life place upon relationships. One chaplain recalls working with Rob and Deb, who married just before Rob's 12-month deployment to Iraq. What neither spouse anticipated was Deb's immediate pregnancy and Rob's absence during the birth of their daughter. Even though Rob's basic pay was tax-free while serving in a combat zone, the couple experienced financial problems, which further added to the stress Rob was experiencing while in harm's way. Rob returned from Iraq a changed man, and Deb was also different than the young, immature woman Rob had left behind. With no desire ever to deploy again, Rob decided against reenlisting, even though he did not have employment upon completion of his service obligation. The couple's relationship worsened following Rob's separation from the military; they subsequently divorced. Within three months of their divorce, after his increased consumption of alcohol did not overcome his loneliness and feelings of failure, Rob committed suicide.

Because of the number of divorces and suicides that take place after service members leave the armed services, military divorce and suicide rates are far greater than current statistics reveal. Dr. Ira R. Katz, Veteran Affairs deputy chief patient care services officer for mental health, reports, "Suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among the veterans we see in our medical facilities." (1)

According to data gathered by CBS News and analyzed by Dr. Steve Rathburn, the acting head of the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Department at the University of Georgia, suicides in 2005 among returning combat veterans aged 20 through 24 were "between two and four times higher than civilians the same age. …

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