ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Maryland –
From the beginning, military families have been a center of gravity for the heart of the military force. Their unwavering, steadfast and resolute presence has provided many with the emotional and psychological stability needed during trying times.
Military families are often called on to live through a number of challenges while supporting their service members, including moving to new locations, placing career opportunities on hold, having to make new friends, and facing the fact that their loved one will deploy into harm’s way.
Army Capt. Jeff Robbins, who entered active duty on an Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps scholarship and commissioned as a Medical Service Corps officer, understands these challenges. During his time on active service as an airborne forward surgical team executive officer, he observed that some members of his former unit would experience either a divorce or other stressors, which impacted their families.
Robbins, who now serves in the Army Reserve Nurse Corps at the 7226th Medical Support Unit at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, currently works in the civilian sector as a family nurse practitioner. He believes that the family support resources today are more tailored to Army families as compared to 15 years ago when he and his team went through their deployments.
“For those service members with families, just knowing that their family has the resources they need, is essential,” Robbins said. “There can be an improvement in outcomes when there are decreased stressors and knowing that one’s family is cared for in their absence can pay dividends. From a clinical perspective, especially one who routinely treats those with substance use disorders, it is imperative to provide support at the foundational level for anyone who may experience trauma.”
The Army People Strategy emphasizes that people are the Army’s number one priority and includes more than 1.3 million members of the Total Army Family within its framework.
The Army Public Health Center routinely releases the Health of the Force report, which is an annual report of key health metrics among active duty Soldiers. As a compliment to begin reporting efforts relevant to the health of Army Family members, the APHC has released the inaugural Health of the Army Family report.
The Health of the Army Family report synthesizes information from more than 300 scientific articles and numerous data sources. It uses a holistic view of health to highlight what is known and unknown about Army family member health across multiple health domains and within the military lifecycle.
This report reflects data and research primarily from 2019 and prior but is able to provide a spotlight on some of the impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Army families. The report’s primary focus is active duty families at present and information is presented for Army Families as a whole; future efforts plan to focus on Army family member health across components, by location, and more.
“Our mission with this report was to review as much scientific literature as possible across multiple domains of health and quality of life, including but not limited to physical health, psychological health, environment and housing, family readiness, and more,” said Dr. Theresa Santo, public health scientist and the chief for the Public Health Assessment Division at APHC.
“We also looked at what we know about health across unique military events such as deployment and permanent change of station moves based on the outstanding work from several Army, military, and non-DOD entities," Santo added. "By taking this approach, our team was able to communicate what we know about Army family health and also where our gaps in knowledge exist so the Army can take action to begin to fill those knowledge gaps.”
The Health of the Army Family report includes specific recommendations tailored to four stakeholder groups. The groups are Soldiers and their families, Army leaders, researchers and evaluators, and policy makers and program proponents. Each chapter of the report provides tactical and operational recommendations by stakeholder groups. These actions include things that each group can do to improve and optimize health of the Army family based on what we already know as well as actions each group can take to fill information gaps.
“The inaugural Health of the Army Family report serves as an important first step toward understanding, monitoring, and optimizing the health, quality of life, and readiness of Army families,” said Laura Mitvalsky, director of the Health Promotion and Wellness Directorate for APHC and champion for this effort. “The health and satisfaction of Army Families today directly impacts the future fighting force of our nation. Our hope is that this report will bring attention to Army family health and aid in the understanding of the health needs and concerns of Army Families, and enable all of our stakeholders to take action to keep the Army strong.”
The Health of the Army Family report has been endorsed by Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. R. Scott Dingle, commander of the Army Medical Command. Dingle says the Health of the Army Family report provides a snapshot of family health and also offers specific actionable recommendations for multiple audiences.
“It is my sincere hope that the information in this new and needed report drives action to optimize the health of the Army family,” Dingle said. “Today’s Army family experiences unique challenges, stressors, and systems. It is important to understand the health status of the Army family so that we can ensure their needs are being met and address any gaps.”
The report is currently available on the APHC Health of the Army fFmily webpage at https://phc.amedd.army.mil/topics/campaigns/armyfamily/Pages/default.aspx.