Study of bereavement in military families is under way 

10/12/2011 6:00 PM 

The first national study of the impact of bereavement on military families is under way, an audience was told Tuesday, Oct. 11 at AUSA’s Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington. Its aims include learning what features make military bereavement different than civilian and helping military families cope with death.

The large, five-year, longitudinal study, conducted by the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, will look at noncombat as well as combat deaths in the decade since 9/11.  It  will ask military families from all the services to volunteer to participate in surveys, focus groups, and interviews.   Stories of coping with loss over time will be sought from as many families as possible, said Steven Coza, M.D., who directs the study.

Coza said what little research has been conducted to date in this area has looked only at one survivor, usually the spouse.  In contrast, his study will look at all family members and the family as a whole. 

Military families, said Coza, have potential advantages in coping with death, including finding meaning in a service member’s death and belonging to a community.  They also have potential disadvantages.

One working hypothesis, Coza said, is that if family members were having difficulties before the death, they are more likely to have problems coping with the loss.  Likewise, those who showed signs of resilience, health, and strength beforehand are more likely to cope better. Also, he said, the literature suggests a child who had a very close, positive relationship with the deceased may have more difficulty.

In addition, families with fewer resources or  dysfunction may have more trouble moving forward, Coza  said.  As for young children, it is well established that in stressful situations their health and wellbeing is apt to parallel that of their caregiver.

Information will be gathered in several ways. .A questionnaire will be filled out by up to 3,000 bereaved family members. Four hundred families from four selected military communities—southern California, Texas, Chicago and environs, and eastern North Carolina—will be interviewed.  About 300 family members will take part in focus groups. Finally, 100 family members will be interviewed over time about their experiences.