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.



Measuring the Quality of Mental Health Care for Veterans

On this Veterans Day, as we honor those men and women who have served our country, it seems appropriate to highlight a recent study on mental health services available to veterans.

In Transforming Mental Healthcare in the Veterans Health Administration: A Model for Measuring Performance to Improve Access, Quality, and Outcomes from the November/December issue of the Journal for Healthcare Quality, a team of researchers share the methodology and preliminary results of a national evaluation of the structure and quality of mental health care provided by the Veterans Health Administration. One finding from this extensive evaluation is the presence of at least one evidence-based practice at each facility, however the ease of accessibility to these services could be improved through further expansion.

This rigorous evaluation may serve as a standard, if not a model, for future evaluations of large health care systems. Visit the publication website for a complete copy of the study.

The full citation of the study:

Watkins, K. E., Keyser, D. J., Smith, B., Mannle, T. E., Kivlahan, D. R., Paddock, S. M., Mattox, T., Horvitz-Lennon, M. and Pincus, H. A. (2010), Transforming Mental Healthcare in the Veterans Health Administration: A Model for Measuring Performance to Improve Access, Quality, and Outcomes. Journal for Healthcare Quality, 32: 33–43. doi: 10.1111/j.1945-1474.2010.00109.x