After Nearly a Decade of War, Servicemembers and Families Report Stress, Resilience

After Nearly a Decade of War, Servicemembers and Families Report Stress, Resilience

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have put America’s all-volunteer force to its most severe test since its inception in 1973. Between 1996 and 2002, 31,000 to 77,000 U.S. servicemembers were deployed abroad on active duty at any given time. Between 2003 and 2007, however, that range reached 74,000 to 294,000.

This overall increase has been sustained through successful military recruiting and incentive strategies. But how are the troops and their families faring?

A growing body of RAND research is helping to illustrate the consequences so that support programs and other policies can better serve the populations in need.

For more information about RAND research on this issue, including insight into the ways the military is sustaining readiness, see www.rand.org/feature/military-well-being

NOTE: Deployment graphic and ranges are based on How Is Deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan Affecting U.S. Service Members and Their Families? RAND/OP-316, 2011, p. 3, www.rand.org/t/OP316.

More than two million U.S. servicemembers have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. Many of these troops experience trauma while deployed and return home with mental health conditions. A variety of barriers may be preventing many of those in need from seeking care.

Nearly 20 percent of servicemembers deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan reported symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depression, as of fall 2007. More than 400,000 could be affected as of today.

U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) suicide rates have historically been lower than those of a comparable subgroup of the U.S. population. In 2006, an increase in the DoD rate began to narrow the gap.

Traumatic Experiences Are Common During Deployments

My friend was seriously wounded or killed 50%

I saw dead or seriously injured noncombatants 45%

I witnessed serious injury or death 45%

I smelled decomposing bodies 37%

I was physically moved or knocked over by an explosion 23%

I was injured but not hospitalized 23%

I received a blow to the head in an accident or injury 18%

I was injured and hospitalized 11%

Troops Report Barriers to Seeking Care

The medications could have too many side effects. It could harm my career. I could be denied a security clearance. My family and friends would be more helpful than a mental health professional. My coworkers would have less confidence in me. I don’t think my treatment would be kept confidential. My commander or supervisor might respect me less. My friends and family would respect me less. I could lose contact with or custody of my children. My commander or supervisor asked us not to get treatment.

NOTES clockwise from upper right: (1) Based on RAND research into probable rates of PTSD and major depression among servicemembers returning from Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) or Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and into suicide rates; see Invisible Wounds of War: Psychological and Cognitive Injuries, Their Consequences, and Services to Assist Recovery, RAND/MG-720, 2008, p. 98, www.rand.org/t/MG720, and The War Within: Preventing Suicide in the U.S. Military, RAND/MG-953, 2011, pp. xv, 15, www.rand.org/t/MG953. (2) Based on a survey of servicemembers deployed to OEF or OIF; see Invisible Wounds of War, p. 104. (3) Based on RAND research into rates of trauma exposure among servicemembers deployed to OEF or OIF; see Invisible Wounds of War, p. 97.

The lives of spouses and caregivers from military families change dramatically during deployment. There are both challenges and benefits, but, for many, child- and employment-related problems appear to worsen.

Deployment challenges and benefits according to interviews with spouses of deployed reserve component personnel

Deployment ChallengesDeployment Benefits
Household responsibilities 40%Family closeness 29%
Emotional or mental 39%Patriotism, pride… 24%
Children’s issues 26%Financial gain 20%
Financial or legal 15%Independence, confidence… 20%
None 14%None 13%

Views from the Homefront: Greatest Challenges

I took on more responsibilities at home 82%

I helped my child deal with life without the deployed parent 80%

People in my community didn’t get what life was like for me 52%

I spent more time with my child on homework 52%

I talked to teachers about my child’s school performance 50%

I felt like I had no one to talk to about my stress, sadness 49%

I lost contact with other military families 29%

I no longer spent time with other military families 18%

Deployment Effects in Three Key Areas according to a survey of active-duty U.S. Air Force spouses

 worsenedimprovedno change
Child-related problems52%7%41%
Employment-related problems44%9%48%
Financial problems29%35%36%

NOTES clockwise from lower right: (1) Based on RAND interviews with Reserve and National Guard families that experienced at least one overseas deployment; see Deployment Experiences of Guard and Reserve Families: Implications for Support and Retention, RAND/MG-645, 2008, pp. 71, 109, www.rand.org/t/MG645. (2) Based on a RAND survey of families that applied to the Operation Purple camp program; see Views from the Homefront: The Experiences of Youth and Spouses from Military Families, RAND/TR-913, 2011, p. 46, www.rand.org/t/TR913. (3) Based on a RAND survey of active-duty U.S. Air Force spouses; see Year of the Air Force Family: 2009 Survey of Active-Duty Spouses, RAND/TR-879, 2011, pp. 18, 21, 25, www.rand.org/t/TR879.

Along certain measures of functioning and well-being, children from military families are no different from other children. However, they do report experiencing more anxiety symptoms, emotional difficulties, and problems with family functioning.

Military Kids Compared with Their Peers

Peer functioning difficultiescomparable
Academic engagement problemscomparable
Risk behaviorscomparable
Emotional or behavioral difficultieselevated
Anxiety symptomselevated
Family functioning difficultieselevated

Emotional Difficulties, Anxiety Symptoms

34%
In a sample, percentage of military kids experiencing moderate or high levels of emotional difficulties, according to caregivers
30%
In a sample, percentage of military kids reporting elevated anxiety symptoms
19%
Estimated percentage of youth in the general population with these emotional difficulties
15%
Estimated percentage of youth in the general population with these anxiety symptoms

Many Problems Persist for at Least a Year for Military Kids

 Summer 2008 (%)6 months later (%)12 months later (%)
Emotional difficulties (youth-reported)11.510.29.7
Emotional difficulties (caregiver-reported)9.98.18.5
Risk behaviors5.45.35.4
School connectedness issuesN/A5.05.0
Academic engagement issues4.84.34.4
Family functioning difficulties4.33.83.8
Anxiety symptoms1.91.61.6
Peer functioning difficulties1.81.61.3

NOTES clockwise from upper right: (1) Based on a RAND survey of families that applied to the Operation Purple camp program; see Views from the Homefront: The Experiences of Youth and Spouses from Military Families, RAND/TR-913, 2011, p. xv, www.rand.org/t/TR913. (2) Based on multiple studies (green percentages) and a RAND survey of families that applied to the Operation Purple camp program (red percentages); see Views from the Homefront, pp. 24, 28. (3) Based on a RAND survey of families that applied to the Operation Purple camp program; see Views from the Homefront, p. 25.