Q&A With Gregory Leskin: How Does Combat Affect Military Families and Children?
By Stephanie Yamkovenko
When discussing the effects that combat can have on military personnel, an often overlooked topic is the military family. Military spouses and children deal with many stressors that accompany combat deployment, and there are currently more than 3.1 million military family members of active duty and selected reserve personnel.1
Are you an occupational therapy practitioner working with clients with TBI, PTSD, or who are active service members and veterans? You can learn in-depth information about these topics from the leading experts at AOTA's Specialty Conference—Advanced Practice in Traumatic Injuries & PTSD and earn up to 13 contact hours. September 7 to 8 in San Antonio, Texas
One of the speakers at the upcoming AOTA Advanced Practice in Traumatic Injuries & PTSD Specialty Conference, Gregory Leskin, PhD, is an expert in military children and families, and is presenting a session on the effects of deployment, injury, and psychological health on military and veteran families. (Session on Saturday, September 8 at 2 p.m.)
Leskin is director of the UCLA National Child Traumatic Stress Network's Military Family Initiative. AOTA recently talked with Leskin to find out more about his work with military families and why he thinks occupational therapy plays an important role in the care of military spouses and children.
AOTA: Why is it important to focus on the military family?
Leskin: Military families and children "serve" their countries in profound ways. Growing up in the military and having a parent or family member who serves in the military is related to many benefits, including tremendous pride, strength, health, patriotism, and optimism. However, these families might be at risk for the negative impact of combat deployments, especially if there has been a physical injury to the body, traumatic brain injury, or psychological injury (such as post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD). Recent research would suggest that the stress and strains of military deployment, as well as those related to combat injury and loss, can potentially have a negative impact on the health and well-being of military families.
AOTA: Why should health care providers who do not work with Veterans Affairs (VA) or the Army be aware of the needs of military families and children?
Leskin: Many military and veteran families may seek occupational therapy at a community setting, outside of the military health service programs or VA hospitals and clinics. In order to provide these families with services that are sensitive to and consider the impact of deployment and combat, we encourage providers to incorporate military culture trainings and to talk to family members about their military and/or deployment related experiences.
AOTA: How can occupational therapy practitioners prepare themselves for working with military children and families?
Leskin: I believe that occupational therapists are really at the front lines of healing those who have suffered the greatest injuries from combat, as well as those family members whose lives are significantly impacted. In order to assist the service members, veterans, and families, it is important to frame interventions in ways that accept the very high level of sacrifice and service these families have made. This might come through in terms of helping the families communicate with each other about what has occurred and in what ways they can move forward. Families might need practical support to find resources or benefits in health care, education, and finding and succeeding at jobs. Families might need assistance to re-establish goals and family structure (like roles and routines) when they re-enter civilian life and can oftentimes use assistance to structure their transition.
AOTA: When working directly with a service member or veteran, should occupational therapy practitioners try to address the needs of their family as well?
Leskin: Each family will be unique. It will be important to understand how the family can serve as a primary support system and find ways to bolster that support for the service member and veteran. The family might require assistance to regain or establish healthy functioning and behavior. Certainly, if the service member or veteran or family members have been directly impacted by psychological stress or physical injury, it will be important to ascertain how these types of conditions have affected each of the family members adaptive, social, and general functioning and implement interventions that might serve to support the entire family system.
AOTA: If you could let all occupational therapy practitioners know one thing about military families and children, what would it be?
Leskin: Military families make tremendous sacrifice and proudly serve our country. The majority of military families and children embody the principles of resilience, strength, hardiness, and tenaciousness. Because of the risks associated with military service, stress and injury can impact the most resilient service member and family. Practice feeling comfortable asking about the impact of military service on the lives of the service member and family and find ways to incorporate an appreciation [of military service] into assessment, interventions, and rehabilitation.
Get information about Leskin's session and register for the AOTA Advanced Practice in Traumatic Injuries & PTSD Specialty Conference here.
Stephanie Yamkovenko is AOTA's staff writer.
1. Department of Defense. (2011). Demographics 2010: Profile of the military community. Retrieved from http://www.militaryhomefront.dod.mil/12038/Project%20Documents/MilitaryHOMEFRONT/Reports/2010_Demographics_Report.pdf