“How are military families affected by the challenges of deployment? To what extent are Service members and their loved ones able to maintain their individual health and interpersonal relationships in the face of lengthy separations? To what extent does the well-being of Service members and their families change across the phases of the deployment cycle? The Deployment Life Study was designed to address these questions.”

In 2009, the RAND Corporation launched a Deployment Life Study, collecting data from approximately 2,700 military families as they experienced deployment. This first-of-its-kind longitudinal study was designed to assess the impact of deployment on military families.The Deployment Life Study_ Longitudinal Analysis of Military Families Across the Deployment Cycle _ RAND

The findings of the study were released in 2016, presenting a series of policy implications and recommendations on improving the well-being of families as they navigate the rigors of deployment.

RAND recommends that support should be targeted based on the experiences of Service members and families rather than their observed or self-reported symptoms.

“If we wait for the Service member to start exhibiting symptoms of their stress before we engage the family, those symptoms will lead to problems that can affect multiple family members,” said Stacey Barnes, Director of Service Member and Family Readiness and Reserve Forces Psychological Health.

“If a Service member experiences significant combat on a deployment, they should receive community-based support around the family that encourages open communication and family-based activities,” said Ida Carruthers, Director of Reserve Component Family Programs.

Another recommendation focuses on those Service members and families who leave military service shortly after a deployment. The study shows they experience significantly higher rates of psychological symptoms and family distress.

“The RAND finding shows us that separation is a critical time for helping Service members and families transition,” said Barnes. “During the separation phase, we can cut the increased risk, improve well-being, and avoid long-term difficulties. We can do this by making additional efforts to help them identify mental health resources, apply for financial benefits, and connect with community support organizations.”

The study also recommends programs that allow and encourage communication between and within military families during the deployment. RAND found successful communication during this timeframe led to better family relationships during reintegration and beyond.

“There are a variety of programs available that help develop communication between Service members and their families during deployment,” said Carruthers. “Programs such as the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program focus a significant portion of their efforts in helping families build and maintain positive communication during deployments.”

RAND also found the impact of deployment on teens has a recognizable impact on family cohesion. Deployments also impact teens by increasing emotional problems, physical aggression, and academic disengagement, as well as worsening the relationship between the teen and the non-deployed parent.

“Overall, the policy implications of this RAND study suggest we can improve our efforts in preventing problems experienced by military families before they arise,” said Barnes. “It’s not simply a matter of identifying what kind of support is needed—it’s also a matter of identifying when that support should be provided.”