Thursday, July 24, 2008

Wars putting special stress on military families

Add to the list of homefront troubles from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the military members are disproportionately rural, some things that really hit home: divorce and domestic disputes.

"The strains and separations of no-end-in-sight wars are taking an ever-growing toll on military families despite the armed services' earnest efforts to help," reports David Crary of The Associated Press. "Divorce lawyers see it in the breakup of youthful marriages as long, multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan fuel alienation and mistrust. Domestic violence experts see it in the scuffles that often precede a soldier's departure or sour a briefly joyous homecoming."

Crary writes, "A Pentagon-funded study last year concluded that children in some Army families were markedly more vulnerable to abuse and neglect by their mothers when their fathers were deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, the latest survey by Army mental health experts showed that more than 15 percent of married soldiers deployed there were planning a divorce, with the rates for soldiers at the late stages of deployment triple those of recent arrivals." Army wife Jessica Leonard told Crary, "Infidelity is huge on both sides — a wife is lonely, she looks for attention and finds it easier to cheat. It does make even the most sound marriages second-guess."

Crary has several chilling examples of violence brought home. The Army told him that its domestic violence rates are no worse than for civilian families, but Johns Hopkins nursing professor Jackie Campbell, who served on a Defense Department domestic-violence task force, told him, "They have no clue what the rate of domestic violence is — they only know what's reported to the system, and that's always lower than the actual rate." And other critics say there is a lack of comprehensive, updated data that reflects the impact of war-zone deployments and tracks cases involving veterans, reservists and National Guard members," he writes. "The Miles Foundation, which provides domestic-violence assistance to military wives, says its caseload has more than quadrupled during the Iraq and Afghan conflicts."

In some ways, the domestic burdens are greater than in previous wars because of "the deployment pattern — two, three, sometimes four overseas stints of 12 or 15 months," Crary writes. "In the past, that kind of schedule was virtually unheard of." Rene Robichaux, social work programs manager for the U.S. Army Medical Command, told him, "There's nothing that has prepared many of our families for the length of these deployments. It's hard to communicate to a family member how stressful the environment is, not just the risk of injury or death, but the austere circumstances, the climate, the living conditions." (Read more)

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