By Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy CEO Joe Dorman
Veterans Day is a wonderful and necessary holiday and a great time to give thanks to those that serve our nation. However, as we move on from this day, it is important to keep the needs of our veterans and active military personnel – as well as their families and children – on our minds all year.
According to the US Census, there are 21,369,602 veterans in the United States, with 312,492 veterans currently living in Oklahoma. That does not include the 1.3 million military personnel and more than 800,000 reserve forces serving nationwide, or the roughly 20,000 service members now living in Oklahoma.
In the modern military, families experience increased stress from multiple deployments and longer tours of duty. Since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001, the United States has seen the largest sustained deployment of military servicemen and servicewomen in the history of the all-volunteer force. This has increased the demand for services for those who have become veterans at a younger age.
Additionally, unlike previous eras, a majority of the current military force is married with children. As a result, more than two million military children have been separated from their service member parents, both fathers and mothers, because of combat deployments. These children and youth have had to cope with frequent parental absences, the threat of potential harm to their parents, psychological injury, and, at times, death of a parent.
When surveyed, children from military families report significantly higher levels of emotional difficulties than children in the general population. Researchers have reported one-third of the military-connected children cited symptoms of anxiety. The types of problems that children reported also varied by age. Older students had more difficulties with school and more problem behaviors such as fighting, while younger students reported more symptoms of fearfulness. These issues do not necessarily stop once the active duty member returns home or even after their military service ends.
Increasing family, school and community connections is important for the healthy development of all children. It is especially important for children in military families that our communities address their unique challenges and help increase their coping skills and resiliency. Programs and support can be provided in school by caring teachers and counselors, and by caring adults who work with out-of-school time programs.
Some organizations also work to help active duty military personnel mentor and network with the children of parents who are deployed. 4-H, for example, has developed a program specifically to reach out to children of active duty families. In 2015, more than 45,000 Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, National Guard, and Reserves children and youth participated in 4-H military clubs on and off installations.
In addition, Scouting also offers rewards for those tied into the prospect of military service. The Girl Scout Gold Award members having the opportunity to advance a rank in military service through this achievement, along with Eagle Scouts receiving an advanced enlisted rank for this recognition. Many of those serving as volunteers and leaders for these youth programs are veterans, essentially passing the torch on to the next generation.
Our men and women in the military deserve our respect and support – and one of the best ways each of us can support our active and reserve military personnel is to help support and care for their children while they serve our country.
OICA is thankful for those who bravely serve our nation as well as all the individuals and organizations that work to support their children.