MILITARY MENTAL HEALTH
Of the 3.6 million military personnel deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), over half are married and about 53% are parents. This has resulted in the separation of about 2 million children from a military parent. Veterans of these conflicts present with higher levels of mental illness compared with veterans of other service eras.
The mental health of OIF/OEF veterans has emerged as a critical factor in incarcerated rates. Although OIF/OEF veterans are less likely than veterans of other eras to be incarcerated, OIF/incarcerated OIF/OEF veterans are three times more likely to have PTSD related to combat.1
As OIF/OEF veterans return home, the process of reintegration can have a variety of effects on spouses or partners and children. Behavioral health care professionals may increasingly encounter OIF/OEF veterans and their families in a variety of treatment environments, including private practice, school social work, hospitals, and community treatment centers.
Mental health problems, such as PTSD, are common in veterans who return from Iraq and Afghanistan. PTSD has been linked to a myriad of difficulties for both the veteran parent and his or her spouse/partner and children. OIF/OEF veterans with PTSD are more likely to have difficulty with parenting and maintaining employment and may experience strain within their family and marital relationships.
Veteran parents with PTSD also exhibit poorer parenting skills and communication difficulties with non-deployed spouses compared with veterans who do not have PTSD—even 1 year after reuniting with their families, according to a study of National Guard military personnel deployed to Iraq.2 Veterans with children tend to report feelings of anger and more symptoms of depression and to endorse interpersonal violence and lower satisfaction with relationships compared with veterans who do not have children.
Common challenges specific to reintegrating into family life include regret at missing key moments in a child’s life, difficulty in reconnecting with a child, self-identified need for help in anger management and emotional expression, and adjustment to co-parenting. In addition, veterans whose children have mental health problems tend to have high rates of depression, anxiety, and other mental health symptoms and lower satisfaction with social relationships and with family.
Ms Pajak is a Licensed Medical Social Worker and Certified Correctional Health Professional. She graduated from The Georgia Institute of Technology and The University of Georgia. She works at a county jail in Atlanta, Georgia, as a mental health clinician.
1. Tsai J, Rosenheck RA, Kasprow WJ, McGuire JF. Risk of incarceration and other characteristics of Iraq and Afghanistan era veterans in state and federal prison. Psychiatr Serv. 2013; 64:1 36-43.
2. Gewirtz AH, Polusny MA, Forgatch M, et al. Effectiveness of a web-enhanced parenting program for military families: Grant awarded to the University of Minnesota from the National Institutes of Health. National Institute on Drug Abuse; 2009. Grant No. DA030114.
3. Allen E, Rhoades GK, Stanley SM, Markman HJ. Hitting home: relationships between recent deployment, post traumatic stress symptoms, and marital functioning for Army couples. J Fam Psychol. 2010;24:280-288.
4. LaMotte AD, Taft CT, Weatherill RP, et al. Examining intimate partner aggression assessment among returning veterans and their partners. Psychol Assess. 2014; 26:8-15.
5. Mansfield AJ, Kaufman JS, Engel CC, Gaynes BN. Deployment and mental health diagnoses among children of US Army personnel. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2011;165:999-1005.