Article Examines Unique Culture of Modern Military Family
Today’s military families comprise a unique culture that is affected by frequent geographic moves, high rates of service among women, and significant increases in number of deployed National Guard and Reserve troops. Approximately half of deployed troops in support of the Global War on Terrorism are from National Guard and Reserve units. These service members tend to be older, have more established families and careers, and may not have expected to be deployed to a combat zone for a long period of time. Unlike previous conflicts, multiple deployments are common; almost 40% of current service members have been deployed at least twice, and the “down-time” between deployments can be relatively brief. This article discusses challenges faced by military couples, as well as strengths inherent to the military culture (e.g., community environment and camaraderie) that clinicians can use in helping families develop resiliency. Couple-based interventions also are described.
More than half of the current generation of Veterans is married and many have young children; approximately 40% of children are 0-5 years old, about one-third are 6-11 years old, and 25% are teenagers. Reintegration presents challenges for family relationships; in one VA study, more than 75% of returning Veterans referred to mental health reported family readjustment issues. Moreover, a recent study of returning Veterans receiving VA healthcare found that 42% continued to experience difficulties getting along with their partner, and 35% reported separation or divorce three years after homecoming. When assessing military couples, it is important to develop a timeline that details the family’s unique set of experiences in the military, including deployments, moves, and other major events. Given the high rates of substance abuse, depression, and anxiety disorders (e.g., PTSD) in this population, mental health issues should be assessed in both partners. Furthermore, due to research findings of increased rates of child abuse both during and after deployment, therapists need to specifically assess for both interpersonal violence and child abuse.
Interventions for families affected by deployment/trauma include family education and couples therapy. Family education programs described in the article include the SAFE Program (www.ouhsc.edu/safeprogram) and its adaptation specifically for OEF/OIF/OND Veterans and their families/friends, Operation Enduring Families (www.ouhsc.edu/oef), both of which are deemed “best practices” by VA Central Office. The REACH Program (www.ouhsc.edu/REACHProgram), a multi-family group treatment model for PTSD, also is described.
The authors note that little research exists on couples therapy for trauma survivors, but some promising approaches are currently being evaluated. They also note that mental health professionals serving this population need to demonstrate persistence, creativity and a willingness to overcome numerous logistical and internal barriers to effectively engage and keep Veterans and their families in care.
Sherman M and Bowling U. Challenges and Opportunities for Intervening with Couples in the Aftermath of the Global War on Terrorism. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy December 2011;41:209-217.
Drs. Sherman and Bowling are part of South Central Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center (MIRECC) and are part of the Oklahoma City VAMC.