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.

Veterans, PTSD and Employment


What is the relationship between military deployment and employment upon returning home? How does wartime service impact the future earnings of veterans?   Is there a link between Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and unemployment?

A recent study from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Unemployment among Recent Veterans during the Great Recession by Jason Faberman and Taft Foster, found that recent veterans have higher rates of unemployment than non-veterans or older veterans. Taking demographic variables and economic cycles into consideration, the report concludes that the rigors and aftereffects of wartime deployment do have an impact on employment upon return.

A technical report from RAND, takes a closer look at one of the potential impacts of serving during a conflict, namely PTSD, among reservists and post-deployment employment earnings.  Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the Earnings of Military Reservists by David S. Loughran and Paul Heaton (e-book is available for download at the RAND website), examines data on PTSD symptoms in reservists completing deployments from 2003 to 2006 and labor market data in an effort to determine a relationship to employment earnings.  The data initially indicated that reservists with symptoms of PTSD  earned less income the year following their return than their counterparts not experiencing symptoms. Additional analysis showed that some differences were present prior to deployment, specifically lower average earnings and a lower level of education.  Further, the researchers found that the gap in employment earnings was greatly minimized (down to a range of 1% – 4%) through the accounting for demographic variables and use of statistical models.

Although the gap in earnings between reservists symptomatic of PTSD post-deployment and those who were not is much smaller than initially indicated, the report suggests that there may be a relationship between PTSD symptoms and underemployment.  Also, the authors note that their study focused primarily on the first year post-deployment, and some manifestations of PTSD may occur at a later point in time.

PTSD makes up 65 percent of the disability claims of recent veterans, according to a 2013 survey from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).  Half of the IAVA survey respondents had friends or family suggest that they seek treatment for a mental health injury, while 37 percent of members knew a veteran who had committed suicide and just under a third (30 percent) had considered it themselves.  Although the data on the relationship between PTSD and unemployment is mixed, the challenge to find work while being open about experiencing PTSD is a real one.   The dialogue and the research need to continue.



Rural Veteran PTSD Care Funded

Late last month the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced funding for the Mental and Behavioral Health Education and Training Program, an initiative meant to increase the number and availability of social workers and psychologists in rural areas, specifically to assist military veterans and their families.  Nearly $10 million in grants were awarded to institutions (including two in eastern Pennsylvania and one in West Virginia) to support study and clinical training in the areas of trauma and abuse, combat-related stress and substance abuse.  Although about 28 percent of the 22 million veterans in the United States reside in rural areas, treatment for PTSD and other combat-related conditions remains difficult to find and may lack the required intensity.  These grants aim to increase both the availability and intensity of trauma–related mental health care, as well as services to families of persons with chronic illnesses in rural areas.

Trauma-Informed Care for Children

A policy brief from the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) explores the complex relationship between childhood trauma and justice system involvement and suggests that more and better early intervention efforts may be required to better serve at-risk children.

According to the report, Healing Invisible Wounds: Why Investing in Trauma-Informed Care for Children Makes Sense, out of the 93,000+ children incarcerated in America, between 75 and 93 percent report at least one traumatic experience in the lives (such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, war, neglect and maltreatment, violence).

The brief examines the effects of trauma on youth and how said effects may influence delinquency. Some highlights from the brief include:

  • Traumatic experiences can affect the brain development of children.
  • Children who have has traumatic experiences have disproportionate contact with the juvenile justice system.
  • The juvenile justice system in America does not adequately address  the needs of children who have experienced trauma.

The report is available for  download at the Justice Policy Institute website.