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News > SEEKING VOLUNTEERS: Medical study examines impact of deployment on military families
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 DOD study examines deployment impact on families of service members
 Studies to be conducted at three locations: University of Houston, University of Central Florida and University of Hawaii at Hilo
SEEKING VOLUNTEERS: Medical study examines impact of deployment on military families

Posted 10/15/2013   Updated 10/16/2013 Email story   Print story


Wilford Hall Medical Center

10/15/2013 - HOUSTON, Texas -- A new three-year medical study funded by the Department of Defense seeks to examine how deployments impact children and families in order to determine the types of programs and resources that would be most helpful for them.

The global war on terror may be winding down as U.S. troops pull out of Afghanistan and other deployment locations and return home, but suicide rates of U.S. service members reached an all-time high last year, a symptom of much bigger problems for military families who experience deployment, according to Candice Alfano, an associate professor of clinical psychology at the University of Houston.

"During the global war on terror, deployments have been longer and more frequent than any other war in U.S. history," said Alfano. "Some families, some kids, and some marriages have really suffered."

Alfano serves as one of three co-principal investigators for the study titled "When Parents Go to War: Psychosocial Adjustments Among the Families of Deployed Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom." A $2.7 million grant by the Defense Department will fund the study at multiple locations that include the University of Houston, the University of Central Florida, and the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

"Unlike previous research studies, we plan to do more than have families just complete some questionnaires. In addition to comprehensive interviews, we'll be measuring children's sleep patterns, and salivary cortisol levels - a hormone linked to stress," said Alfano, who also serves as director of the Sleep and Anxiety Center for Kids at the UH.

"Biological measures are highly sensitive to periods of stress, more so than a questionnaire. Self-reports are also subject to a range of biases, whereas cortisol and sleep are objective. Children in our study will wear an actigraph, similar to a wrist watch, which allows us to measure sleep-wake patterns. We think this is particularly important since sleep is usually the place where stress first rears its head."

Across all three sites, a total of 450 civilian and military families with at least one child, 7 to 17 years of age, are being recruited. There are four types of families who can participate: military families, from any service branch, with a deployed parent; military families without a currently deployed parent; civilian families with only one parent at home due to separation or divorce; and civilian families with both parents and caregivers at home.

Alfano and her collaborators hope results from the study will advance current knowledge of how military deployments affect children and families.

One of the biggest limitations of existing research is that it has failed to include adequate comparison control groups, Alfano said. Children with a deployed parent have either been examined in isolation or compared exclusively to children from military families without a deployed parent.

"In our study, we are examining two types of military families as well as two types of civilian families to better determine how military-related separations, specifically, impact children and families," Alfano said.

Participating families will receive compensation for their time and efforts, which will include one in-person appointment as well as tracking of children's sleep and collection of saliva at home for one week. For more information, call 713-743-3400 or visit

About the Sleep and Anxiety Center for Kids (SACK)
The Sleep and Anxiety Center for Kids (SACK) at the University of Houston offers free clinical services to children of active-duty service members, reservist and veterans. Free workshops focused on improving sleep are also offered periodically for service members. For more information about available research opportunities and clinical services, call 713-743-3400 or visit the SACK web site at

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