The absence of a parent can affect a child’s development and basic sense of trust according to experts. Between moving, deployments, and long hours, military parents spend a lot of time away from their kids. In 2003, service members reported being away from home on average two months out of the year for reasons other than deployment to operations. Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have increased these separations; nearly 900,000 troops with children have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. A recent Department of Defense report said children between ages of 6 and 13 were most affected by these deployments.
“It’s terrible without my dad. And it would be really hard if he gets hurt or shot or even killed.”
There is another, more permanent, loss that looms over military families: the injury or death of a parent. Tens of thousands of service members have been injured in Iraq or Afghanistan and thousands have given their lives. And more are affected by mental health challenges and return from war changed. Nearly 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are believed to be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
When a parent is injured, ill, or even away for long periods of time, the family’s roles, routines and sense of safety can be dramatically disrupted. Community support plays a large part in helping families cope through these losses. Every family and every situation is unique, but here are some basic steps you can take to help:
Take the course “Living in the New Normal,” offered by the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC), which teaches educators and other adults in military children’s lives how to help children handle trauma and loss.
Educate your community leaders about the needs of a combat-injured family. Your local Service’s Wounded Warrior program may have a representative who can conduct a workshop or provide more information.
Become acquainted with Service support programs for severely wounded service members: Safe Harbor provides non-medical care to severely wounded, ill, or injured Navy and Coast Guard personnel. The Army Wounded Warrior program (AW2) serves Soldiers. Support for Marines is found at the Marines Wounded Warrior Regiment. Airmen can find resources at Air Force Wounded Warrior (AFW2).
Sesame Workshop. In this primetime special, Sesame Workshop presents personal stories about coping with the death of a parent. Visit www.sesameworkshop.org/grief to watch the video.
Military OneSource—A toll-free number and website to answer just about every question a service member, family member or concerned citizen may have about the military and its resource. Visit ww.militaryonesource.com or call 800.342.9647.