MELISSA BLOCK, host:
There's new research today that highlights the strain, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are putting on military families. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that long deployments have resulted in increase rates of child abuse and neglect. We'll talk about the issue with the director of the Army's family programs in just a few minutes.
First, Rose Hoban reports from North Carolina Public Radio.
ROSE HOBAN: Allison(ph) and Chris(ph) Irving are trying to get their 2-year-old daughter, McKenzie(ph), to bed.
Ms. ALLISON IRVING (Wife of Chris Irving): Do you want to get ready for bed?
Ms. McKENZIE IRVING (Allison and Chris' daughter): No.
Mr. CHRIS IRVING: Of course not.
Ms. IRVING: Well, it's time for bed.
Mr. IRVING: Please? (Unintelligible).
HOBAN: But for 15 months, when Chris Irving was deployed to Iraq with the National Guard, he couldn't help. Allison stayed at their new home in Garner, North Carolina, with their two children. While Chris was away, Allison had their third.
Ms. IRVING: Depression had set in, and just dealing with every day life by yourself. And I know there's a lot of single parents out there, but it's so much different than that because you have a husband or a loved one over in a war zone and not knowing what's going to happen.
HOBAN: Irving says she got by because of a support group, but she understands how some military spouses crack under the strain of lengthening deployments.
Ms. IRVING: And you never can prepare yourself for it, but you would - you like to think you can.
HOBAN: The new study from the Journal of the American Medical Association shows some military spouses don't do as well as Irving. The Army commissioned the study and it examined all confirmed reports of abuse and neglect collected by the Army from September 11th, 2001 through the end of 2004.
Sandra Martin from the University of North Carolina is one of the study's authors.
Martin says, overall, rates of maltreatment of children in military families are low. But during deployment, rates jump, outstripping civilian abuse rates. Martin says civilian wives left at home are the most affected.
Dr. SANDRA MARTIN (Department of Maternal and Child Health, University of North Carolina): We found that their rate of maltreatment increased three times, and it was especially likely to increase for the child neglect. It was four times higher than neglect during deployment than non-deployment. And physical abuse was almost twice as high.
HOBAN: Martin says that the hundreds of thousands of enlisted soldiers' families, eighteen hundred abused or neglected their kids. She says of the thirty-three hundred confirmed cases, two-thirds were moderate to severe. The vast majority were neglect.
Ms. MARTIN: You leave them alone when they're too young to be left alone. You don't feed them properly. You don't clothe them properly. You don't keep them clean. You don't send them to school. You medically don't take care of their needs.
HOBAN: More enlisted soldiers in the Army are married and with kids than in previous conflicts. Today, half of them are married. During the Vietnam War, it was a third.
The study found many abusers were parents who'd never had a problem until a soldier deployed.
Brown University anthropologist Catherine Lutz says she's not surprised at the results. She's studied military culture on and around military bases. She says the Army addresses symptoms of the issue, but not the problem.
Ms. CATHERINE LUTZ (Anthropologist, Brown University): The risk factors are military culture itself, which values violence, teaches that violence works, that it's often necessary, you'll get rewarded for it, that it's morally righteous in many cases. And, obviously, military culture doesn't say you should beat your children, at all.
HOBAN: While military leaders say there are plenty of services available for family members, Lutz thinks the response to domestic violence in the military is usually inadequate.
Ms. LUTZ: We know that in the case of spousal violence, that the military doesn't take the problem as seriously as it takes the problem of retaining its very expensive soldiers that costs between a hundred and five hundred thousand dollars, to train some of the soldiers.
HOBAN: Study author Martin admits the numbers are probably lower than in real life. But this study is the first time researchers have been able to examine this data and begin to get some idea as to the scope of the problem.
For NPR News, I'm Rose Hoban in Durham, North Carolina.