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Journal Issue: Military Children and Families Volume 23 Number 2 Fall 2013

When a Parent Is Injured or Killed in Combat
Allison K. Holmes Paula K. Rauch Colonel Stephen J. Cozza

Summary

When a service member is injured or dies in a combat zone, the consequences for his or her family can be profound and long-lasting. Visible, physical battlefield injuries often require families to adapt to long and stressful rounds of treatment and rehabilitation, and they can leave the service member with permanent disabilities that mean new roles for everyone in the family. Invisible injuries, both physical and psychological, including traumatic brain injury and combat-related stress disorders, are often not diagnosed until many months after a service member returns from war (if they are diagnosed at all—many sufferers never seek treatment). They can alter a service member's behavior and personality in ways that make parenting difficult and reverberate throughout the family. And a parent's death in combat not only brings immediate grief but can also mean that survivors lose their very identity as a military family when they must move away from their supportive military community.

Sifting through the evidence on both military and civilian families, Allison Holmes, Paula Rauch, and Stephen Cozza analyze, in turn, how visible injuries, traumatic brain injuries, stress disorders, and death affect parents' mental health, parenting capacity, and family organization; they also discuss the community resources that can help families in each situation. They note that most current services focus on the needs of injured service members rather than those of their families. Through seven concrete recommendations, they call for a greater emphasis on family-focused care that supports resilience and positive adaptation for all members of military families who are struggling with a service member's injury or death.