Study Highlights Challenges Faced by Children of Wounded Service Members

Between 2001 and 2011, over 2.2 million American service members were deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Although it is not unusual for military families to experience some stress when a loved one is deployed, studies have found that children with a deployed parent are at risk for higher levels anxiety, poorer academic performance, and drug and/or alcohol use than their peers. Now, research from the Caster Family Center for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Research at the University of San Diego, in partnership with Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, indicates that children of returning wounded service members face additional challenges that may impact their development.

Through extensive interviews with wounded servicemen and women and their familiesresearchers identified several themes:

  • Invisible wounds. Children with parents diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder along with their visible wounds reported increased anger and an overall lack of understanding of the changes in their parent.  Youth tended to adapt quicker to tangible wounds and the special care they required.
  • Losing both parents.  Attention was diverted from children in the family to the newly returned wounded parent, with older children taking on the adult role of providing emotional support and care  to siblings and/or the non-injured parent.
  • Too much or too little information.  Lack of communication with children around the reality of the returning parent’s injuries caused distress.  For adults, ill-timed “information dumps” on resources/programs that occurred too early in the reunification process were overwhelming and often not helpful.
  • Isolation. Families transitioning from the military to a civilian community with a seriously wounded family member reported feeling isolated, cut off from those who might best understand their experience.

To better meet these needs, the study authors recommend the development or expansion of programs that help families build long term resiliency, as well as youth mentoring and peer-to-peer social support for children.

If you are interested in reading more about the challenges faced by wounded service members and their families, RAND has an exceptional series of reports and presentations from their Military Caregiver Study available at their website.




Report Citation: Schumann, M.J., Nash Cameron, E., Deitrick, L., Reed, G., and Doroliat, D. (2014). Study on Children of Seriously Wounded Service Members. San Diego, CA: Caster Center for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Research, University of San Diego.

Adequate Resources for Military Families with Deployment-Related Stress?

A report from RAND gives insight into the challenges faced by families of deployed military personnel. A sample of over 1,100 youth (11 to 17 years old) and their caregiver or parent participated in this study that examined emotional, social and academic functioning and challenges during periods of parental military deployment.

Findings from the study include:

  • Thirty percent of youth experienced symptoms of anxiety – symptoms serious enough to require additional assessment – but those symptoms declined over the duration of the study.
  • Longer lengths of parental deployments pre-study were associated with more severe challenges reported by youth during the study period.
  • The emotional well-being of the caregiver was linked to the youth’s social, emotional and academic outcomes.

A multitude of active and reserve military families across the country are facing the challenges of having a parent/spouse in the stressful cycle of deployment and reintegration. The report points out that families living far from military bases or associated with the National Guard may not have adequate access to support services and socialization opportunities with other families in similar situations. Do these families get lost in the shuffle? Has your organization reached out to military families, included them in existing programs or referred them to support groups, networks or other resources?

The complete findings and recommendations from this RAND research study are available at the RAND website.

Study Citation: Chandra, Anita , Sandraluz Lara-Cinisomo, Lisa H. Jaycox, Terri Tanielian, Bing Han, Rachel M. Burns and Teague Ruder. Views from the Homefront: How Military Youth and Spouses Are Coping with Deployment. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2011.