Stacy Bannerman
August 6, 2007

The children of the troops serving in Iraq are experiencing significant collateral damage at home, according to two staggering new reports on the occurrence of child maltreatment, neglect, and abuse during combat-related deployments.
The results of a three-year study recently published in the American Journal of Epidemiology stated: “Warhas a profound emotional impact on military personnel and their families. The rate of occurrence of substantiated maltreatment in military families was twice as high[during] deployment.” Most victims were four years old or younger and the perpetrator was usually the civilian parent who remained at home while a spouse was deployed.
An even greater finding of abuse was uncovered in a similar study published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Looking at families of enlisted Army troops with verified reports of child maltreatment, the study found: “Among female civilian spouses, the rate of maltreatment during deployment was more than three times greater; the rate of child neglect was almost four times greater; and the rate of physical abuse was nearly twice as great.”
Skyrocketing stress levels in the parent left behind are one of the key factors contributing to elevated rates of neglect and abuse, according to the research. The JAMA study found that the primary offenders were non-Hispanic white civilian females, who, according to other informal surveys and anecdotal reports, are also reporting higher rates of secondary post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). War-related “secondary trauma” shares some of the same symptoms as a full-blown diagnosis, including emotional withdrawal, increased anxiety, and poor anger management.
The extended deployments of 15 months or more and the reduced dwell time in between deployments are also exacerbating tensions on the home front. Another issue is the Army’s rather haphazard approach to providing respite childcare, family support, and prevention services and education.
“The Army is not really grasping what’s going on with the kids,” said Beth Pyritz, a 27-year-old mother of five whose husband, an Army specialist, returned to Iraq in June. It’s his third deployment in six years, and this time he’ll be gone for at least 15 months. His previous tour-of-duty lasted 10 months, during which time their six-year-old began acting out, and their eldest, an Honor Roll student, failed a grade.
Military kids are experiencing social, emotional, behavioral and academic problems that range from mild to severe, including bed-wetting, anti-social behavior, and juvenile delinquency. In the most acute cases, adolescents have been placed in psych wards or put on suicide watch while their parents were at war.
Well over one million children have had a parent deployed in combat since 2001, but there are few developmentally appropriate programs available, and the Veterans Administration and Vet Centers do not serve individual family members. The Army does provide some voluntary resources, such as Family Readiness Groups, but these are clearly not enough. And although the TV series, “Army Wives,” portrays a close-knit group of women on base, the reality can be quite a bit different. Beth’s family has been stationed at Ft. Eustisin Virginia for less than a year, and she says, “There’s not a lot of camaraderie with the wives.”
Resources and support, both formal and informal, are even fewer and further between for the families and children of the more than 400,000 National Guard and Reservists who have been deployed. Five years into the war in Iraq, and the military is just now beginning to recognize that these citizen soldiers and their families are struggling with different challenges from those experienced by active duty troops, and have often been more detrimentally affected by long deployments.

Just another example of our troops not having the necessary resources.