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DOD to study impact of troops' death on family members

Marines carry the remains of a fallen comrade from an aircraft at Dover Air Force Base on June 23, 2011.

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — The Defense Department is looking for participants to take part in a study of how a servicemember’s death impacts surviving family members.

The National Military Family Bereavement Study is a five-year project that will examine emotional impact, loss of benefits, level of community support, and how bereavement changes over time in hopes that researchers can learn from grieving post-9/11 military families to enact better survivor care policy, researchers said Tuesday in a Defense Department news release.

The study is being conducted by the Defense Department’s Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and is the first large-scale scientific bereavement study to focus on the impact the death of a servicemember has on their family, the release said. The study was funded by the DOD’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program through the university’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress in Bethesda, Md.

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More than 6,500 servicemembers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since the start of the wars.

“There is a lack of substantive research on the impact of the death of a family member serving in the U.S. military,” according to a message on the study’s website. “The need to study individual and family bereavement when a U.S. military service member dies is critical to understanding the experience of grief and loss in this unique survivor population. This study’s findings will help to provide a scientific basis to inform policies affecting survivor care.”

The study is open to families of active-duty servicemembers who have died, as well as reservists’ and Guardsmen’s families if their loved one was drilling, training, mobilizing or deployed on the day of his/her death. The servicemember can have died of any cause on or since Sept. 11, 2001, including homicide, suicide, illness, and killed in action, the website said.

Researchers are looking for about 3,000 participants through their website, http://www.militarysurvivorstudy.org/, and hope to have even representation between participants whose family member died in a combat related incident, or due to accidents, illness and suicide, the news release said.

Several hundred participants already are lined up, the release said. The study will follow participants for two years to understand how bereavement changes over time.

The research team also plans to look at the impact of community support and services on the bereaved and how available resources impact resilience or vulnerability, according to the website.

“This is an opportunity for recognizing that military service has certain unique challenges, certain strengths, certain risks or potential protective factors,” research team leader Dr. Stephen Cozza, director of the center’s child and family program, said in the news release. “So this is an important opportunity to really understand the experiences of surviving family members and by understanding, to inform future policies.”

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