At last, because of the recent publicity of breached medical records belonging to vets, more attention is also focused on the family and children of returning soldiers and vets who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A preliminary Canadian study confirms it’s a no-brainer to expect that kids of military parents suffer as much or more watching their dad or mom transform into a raging monster they don’t recognize, much less understand.
A retired sociology professor at the University of New Brunswick, Dr. Deborah Harrison, is co-author of the research paper and is presenting advance findings of the study at the Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society in Toronto today. In it, she discloses interviews with four teenagers whose fathers and stepdads have returned after multiple deployments to Afghanistan or other recent UN peacekeeping missions that endured battle conditions within the past ten years.
She describes their reactions, how the men who returned were not the same loving fathers who made them feel safe and supported before they left. For these children, strangers came home, strangers who erupted into terrible rages without warning, helpless strangers who need these children to look after them in a role reversal, despondent strangers they must constantly watch to prevent their fathers from committing suicide. One teen gives a simple analogy: “The person who raised you is replaced with someone you don’t like at all.”
What these children suffer is akin to a grieving process, the same as children who live with parents suffering debilitating diseases like ALS, Parkinson’s or MS. They too feel robbed of the parents they once knew as they slowly “disappear” and “change.” Every day, every incident, reinforces such grieving for families and offspring placed in caregiving roles.
It’s great that this study documents the physical abuse, emotional neglect and unpredictable rage that vets’ kids and military children of PTSD parents endure. The larger question is, however, what is being done and what is going to be done about it? As much as vets need programs to help them heal; so do their families, especially their children, because at some point, the emotional fallout of their children creates longer-lasting problems for vets and their spouses.
Any vets who relate to the findings in this study and have found social or psychological programs that have helped you and your family work through them, please share your information so that you can help others work through their sense of emotional isolation. We can comfort each other with our mutual understanding.