Military Deployment Stress Seeps to Children

Gorman's study also suggested that children with deployed fathers were more likely to face problems than those with deployed mothers. But families where the father was deployed may have been more likely to enroll in the military health insurance program Tricare, which provided the data for the research, according to Dr. Beth Ellen Davis, retired colonel and pediatrician at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Wash., and author of the study's accompanying editorial.

"On the basis of my clinical experience, I would have as much (if not more) concern about child MH [mental health] and behavioral problems in single AD [active duty] parent and female deployed-service-member households," Davis wrote in her editorial.

Researchers also noted that the findings may underestimate the psychological stress of military families, since they looked at records of children in all military branches -- not just the Army and Marine families who have incurred a larger number of deployments.


Most Problems Occur With Children Living 'Outside the Gates,' Study Finds

Military bases are known to provide the largest support network for families enduring a deployment. Many children share deployment experiences, and schools often provide programs, including deployment support groups. But most military families do not live on a military base.

"Right now, [Abigail] is not in a military school and I think that makes a difference," Hardt said.

Indeed, 65 percent of mental health and behavioral problems were reported by civilian physicians, not by military doctors and not on military bases, according to Gorman's study.

"This is not just an issue of importance to military policymakers. This is applicable to anyone who takes care of children," professor Gorman said. "Hopefully, this will draw attention to military children that are present in these practices and [the doctor] may not even know it."

While pediatricians and other child-care providers routinely ask children about their family dynamic, Davis said, it is now important to understand whether the child is part of a military family, and include questions specific to their parents' service.

Surviving Deployment: No One Size Fits All

"By simply asking, 'I understand your daddy-mommy is deployed. How are you feeling?' pediatricians can uncover important stressors in a military family," Davis wrote.

The problems seen in a child are often problems experienced within the family, said Dr. Oscar Bukstein, pediatric psychiatrist at Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital and director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston.

"When the spouse is away and in harm's way, it's hard to keep your feelings about it from your child," Bukstein said. "Kids have a difficult time expressing [their feelings] and it could be exacerbated by parents who show that they are also having a tough time."

The U.S. Department of Defense and other military organizations provide a wealth of program to support military personnel, spouses and children, including those who do not live on military installations.

But according to Dr. Michael Faran, director of the child adolescent family behavioral health at Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, while there are plenty of resources available, some families choose not to participate.

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