Academic journal article The Future of Children

When a Parent Is Injured or Killed in Combat

Academic journal article The Future of Children

When a Parent Is Injured or Killed in Combat

Article excerpt

Summary

When a service member is injured or dies in a combat zone, the consequences for his or her family can be profound and long-lasting. Visible, physical battlefield injuries often require families to adapt to long and stressful rounds of treatment and rehabilitation, and they can leave the service member with permanent disabilities that mean new roles for everyone in the family. Invisible injuries, both physical and psychological, including traumatic brain injury and combat-related stress disorders, are often not diagnosed until many months after a service member returns from war (if they are diagnosed at all--many sufferers never seek treatment). They can alter a service member's behavior and personality in ways that make parenting difficult and reverberate throughout the family. And a parent's death in combat not only brings immediate grief but can also mean that survivors lose their very identity as a military family when they must move away from their supportive military community.

Sifting through the evidence on both military and civilian families, Allison Holmes, Paula Rauch, and Stephen Cozza analyze, in turn, how visible injuries, traumatic brain injuries, stress disorders, and death affect parents' mental health, parenting capacity, and family organization; they also discuss the community resources that can help families in each situation. They note that most current services focus on the needs of injured service members rather than those of their families. Through seven concrete recommendations, they call for a greater emphasis on family-focused care that supports resilience and positive adaptation for all members of military families who are struggling with a service member's injury or death.

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Since the U.S. military began fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2002, approximately two million military children have seen a parent deploy into harm's way at least once, and many families have experienced multiple deployments. (1) Most deployments end with a parent's safe return home, but more than 50,000 service members have been physically injured in combat, and even more are later diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (TBI) or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In the worst case, deployed parents don't return at all. In this article, we examine the impact on dependent children of deployments that result in visible or physical injuries (for example, amputations or burns); invisible injuries, including TBI and PTSD; and a parent's death.

Few researchers have studied how military children adapt to a parent's injury or death in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. But military and civilian accounts describe profound effects on parents' mental health (including that of injured, uninjured, and surviving parents), parenting capacity, family organization, and community resources. Where there are gaps in the research, we present data from studies of civilian parents or of service members from previous conflicts who faced similar challenges. These studies can help us understand what military-connected children are likely to experience, and what the affected children and their families will need in the long run. Of course, their needs will change as they move from the initial notification of injury or death and on to treatment, recovery, and reintegration into civilian communities. Clinical and nonclinical providers alike must be aware of these evolving needs and make a long-term commitment to the children and families who, in serving our nation, have paid a particularly high price.

Combat-Related Injury

Since fighting began in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 50,000 men and women have been physically injured and required immediate medical attention. (2) Other combat-related conditions, including PTSD and TBI, may not be recognized or treated until service members return home. Thus injuries can be categorized as visible or invisible. The distinction is important, because visible and invisible injuries have different effects on children, families, and their relationships. …

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