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New study looks at impact of military service on children

For every soldier involved in the active duty military, there are often twice as many children impacted by military life. (AP Photo/Stephen Morton)

We know there are tens of thousands of military personnel in our area, most of them serving at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. But for every soldier involved in the active duty military, there are often twice as many children impacted by military life.

“We have about 2 million children, birth through age 17, that have had parents serve in one of the wars over the past 12 years – sort of a continuous period of involvement in combat,” David Murphey, a senior research scientist at Child Trends, a non-profit research center, tells CBS News.

About 500,000 of the children are under the age of six, according to Murphey, who is behind a new study that takes a look at the effect more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan is having on military kids.

“There’s a sense of loss when a parent is absent. In addition, the child can pick up on the stress, worry, anxiety of the parent who is remaining at home,” says Murphey.

He says the current generation of military kids has different issues to deal with than those who came decades before them.

During the Vietnam War, only 15 percent of active-duty troops were parents and most of them were men. Today, nearly half of all active-duty service members have children, and 14 percent of those service members are single parents.

Mothers make up 16 percent of the active-duty force, Murphey tells CBS.

“It’s a different kind of military than we had say a generation or two ago. We have many more women and mothers serving in the military, we have many more single parents serving in the military. It’s a changing demographic that I’m not sure we’ve all caught up with our service providers or even the military itself.”

Murphey says the kids needs are often overlooked when their parents return from war.

“The common belief is that it’s a joyful reunion and certainly there is that aspect to it, but it also can mean additional readjustments, particularly if that returning service member has been injured psychologically or physically.”

He says while there are programs to help military personnel returning from the battlefield, children need that kind of support, too.

Since little research attention has been given to young children, Murphey says, many parents don’t understand why their children act out and often respond with anger, which can ratchet up family stress levels.

“We know that just as a service member returning home with a physical injury or a psychological injury may need some long-term supports. In many cases, children who are affected by their parent’s military service may also need some long-term support.”

The report, “Home Front Alert: The Risks Facing Young Children in Military Families,” released Monday found that while children are resilient, war can take a steep and potentially long-lasting toll during their critical early years, when the brain is growing rapidly and children are developing a sense of trust in the world.

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