With nearly 150,000 military servicemember participants, the Millennium Cohort Study of the Defense Department began with the goal to explore the long-term health effects of military service, including deployments, on military servicemembers. It is the largest prospective health project in military history.
This Defense Department study will now also include research on the effects of military service on military families as well. The DoD study's expansion to include military families in their research marks an important step in military family research. "Researchers have done a good job of studying the impact of deployment on servicemembers beginning with Vietnam, but family members have been pretty much overlooked," said William E. Schlenger, principal investigator for the study's family impact component.
The new aspect of the study will enroll a new panel of about 62,500 servicemembers. About half will be married, and researchers anticipate that about 65 percent will give permission to contact their spouses. Researchers hope to study 5,000 spouses whose military spouse has deployed one or more times, and about 5,000 spouses whose military spouse has not deployed. Having spousal feedback will help researchers gather important military family information.
Experts will ask spouses about their physical and mental health and also about the status of their servicemember. Both will be asked about the quality of their relationship with each other and, if applicable, about how deployments are affecting their children. "We'll also ask the spouse about the specific kinds of stressors that have happened in the family that are attributable to deployment," Schlenger added.
Schlenger noted two components of deployment that affect military families. "The servicemember is leaving the family," he said. "Mommy or daddy is leaving, or my spouse whom I've chosen to live my life with is going away - and not for a nontrivial period of time."
Secondly, the military spouse is often going away, "to a place that's very dangerous," Schclenger continued. "That makes service in the military different from other kinds of occupations." As a result, topics like military life insurance, particularly before deployment may be discussed more often and with more gravity, adding to the many stressors that can drive home the reality of being a military family.
Military children face highly unique challenges - deployment of mom or dad, worry over their military parent, and frequent and stressful PCS which can mean leaving friends and schools behind more often than usual. Experts hope to learn more about the way children of different ages and stages understand and respond to these and other military lifestyle issues.
While about half of the military is married, the other half have families too; mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and other family members who can be impacted. As a next step, Schlenger noted that "we also need to focus on the broader impact on extended families" of our military servicemembers, in order to best support military families at all levels.
The Millennium Cohort Study was launched in 2001 and will span 21 years by the time it concludes in 2022. Researchers project they'll have some findings by 2012.