POLICY: Perpetual war hits military families hard

It’s well worth looking at this commentary from Kaiser Family Foundation’s Drew Altman, and preeminent health care policy expert Bob Blendon at Harvard. They recently surveyed military families about the costs of the extended tours of duty being forced upon our troops in Iraq. While most readers of THCB will have their minds made up one way or another about the war long before now, any casual walker down a mainstreet in any large American city can tell that we haven’t done a good job looking after our veterans. Altman and Blendon suggest that this lack of attention is also visited on the families of soldiers on deployment, in both health, social and financial terms.

    The emotional toll that soldiers and their families pay when they are overseas for extended periods can also be high. Fifty-six percent of spouses of extended-duty soldiers are living day-to-day with the fear that their husband or wife will be injured or killed overseas. When asked about the families in their spouse’s unit, half report that marital problems are very common; 40 percent cite depression as a very common problem; 27 percent report alcohol or drug abuse problems in the unit; and 16 percent say domestic violence is very common.

The financial impact is also severe.

    The financial stress of extended deployment can be severe for military families. Fully three in 10 report that in the past year, they and their family have had trouble paying bills. For more than one in five, their current financial situation is such that they have to get food stamps or Women, Infants, and Children program aid from the government. (Even 6 percent of families of officers say they receive food stamps or WIC.) Clearly more financial support is needed for the families of soldiers risking their lives for their country for an extended period of time.

Interesting that two of America’s larger employers of those who have lower educational status–the Army and Walmart–both have plenty of employees’ dependents on welfare. But given the poor follow-up social and health care given to Vietnam Veterans and the issues with Gulf War syndrome, the concept of "supporting our troops" needs to become more than just a jingoistic slogan. Or the result will be more pressure on the healthcare system in years to come.

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