With over 2.1 million service members deployed at least once in support of Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), many contemporary military families are strained. The impact of recent deployments on the family is largely unknown, although available evidence suggests that deployments take a considerable toll on families, leading to psychological distress, behavioral problems, and family discord. Such psychosocial dysfunction likely comes with substantial societal costs. Military partners/spouses comprise a large proportion of the US workforce and are potential beneficiaries of mental health services. Likewise, the well-being and future productivity of military children are critical to society. Research from previous deployments suggests that warzone veteran posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) confers significant additional risk of poor psychosocial outcomes in families. Little is known, however, about how pre-deployment characteristics, social support, and the course of combat veteran PTSD symptoms influence family adaptation, especially in the context of recent deployments. The immediate aim of the proposed work is to examine associations of OIF veteran PTSD symptoms (and symptoms trajectories, pre-deployment to 8 years post-deployment) with family mental health outcomes and family functioning. The longer term goal is to use study findings to enhance family mental health adaptation to deployment by informing service delivery targets and prevention interventions among military/military veteran family members. We hypothesize that OIF veteran PTSD, especially if chronic, will be associated with poorer family outcomes, and that risk and resilience variables (e.g., family social support, veteran characteristics) will moderate the impact of veteran PTSD on family outcomes. This unique observational study involves primary data collection from the family members (N = 380 families) of previously followed nationally-dispersed OIF veterans, which will be analyzed with the large body of archived OIF veteran data collected from the Neurocognition Deployment Health Study and VA Cooperative Study Program (CSP) #566. The OIF veteran data are distinct from other efforts because they contain self-report questionnaires, interview data, and objective, neuropsychological performance data in the context of longitudinal measurement of veteran mental health (beginning prior to deployment). Family data will encompass self-report questionnaires and phone interviews, with family outcomes relevant to spouses/partners, children, and overall family cohesion. The VA CSP presents a cost-effective platform for contacting veteran cohort members and accessing archived veteran data.

Public Health Relevance

With over 2.1 million service members having deployed at least once to Iraq or Afghanistan, many contemporary military families are strained. The proposed research is designed to better understand the psychological toll of military deployments on families and to identify factors, such as the service member's own psychological adjustment, that may influence the family's adaptation to the stress of deployment and its aftermath. Because mental disorders and psychosocial dysfunction result in significant costs to society (e.g., increased healthcare utilization, increased problems at work), the minimization of these problems in the family members of warzone veterans will have tremendous public health benefits.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Research Project (R01)
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Social Psychology, Personality and Interpersonal Processes Study Section (SPIP)
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Tuma, Farris K
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Boston University
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Vasterling, Jennifer J; Taft, Casey T; Proctor, Susan P et al. (2015) Establishing a methodology to examine the effects of war-zone PTSD on the family: the family foundations study. Int J Methods Psychiatr Res 24:143-55