Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a highly transmissible respiratory illness that has increasingly besieged our daily life since its discovery in December. In response to the pandemic, the World Health Organization (W.H.O) declared a global health emergency on January 30, 2020, and soon after, the United States followed suit declaring a national emergency in March 2020. As we enter the month of April, there are almost 700,000 confirmed cases worldwide in over 200 countries or territories.1
The impact of COVID-19 on the U.S. military continues to grow, presenting extraordinary challenges to readiness: joint military exercises have been cancelled; U.S. bases in Europe have been closed or locked down; physical fitness tests postponed; graduations cancelled; promotions delayed; elective surgeries and routine care temporarily suspended; onboarding has come to a stop; sweeping travel bans have halted the movement of many, while others have been unexpectedly mobilized, etc. As our soldiers rapidly respond to contain and combat COVID-19, military families are charged with the familiar mission of supporting our nations troops in the face of uncertainty.
In an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the Pentagon has restricted both domestic and overseas travel, stopping almost all movement of US troops.2 As a result, thousands of soldiers ready to deploy or redeploy will be staying in place, while thousands of deployed soldiers will remain stuck overseas. The much anticipated reunification of many families will be delayed at least an additional 60 days. Those families preparing for permanent change of station (PCS) will also be delayed. Many families staying in place will still experience separations or increased time apart as troops are mobilized to support state and federal efforts to manage the outbreak. Some might experience greater time together as work from home orders and telework capabilities increase.
Military families, much like civilian families, are also having to navigate childcare coverage as most daycares, schools, and after-school programs have closed. Finding childcare in the best of times is a challenge, never mind in a pandemic, requiring social distancing. Many spouses are now having to telework from home, take care of their children, and in many instances, are still being charged tuition from daycare centers despite the temporary closure. The strain on military families is heightened for those spouses who hold jobs deemed essential (e.g., nurses and healthcare workers, supermarket clerks, postal workers, etc.). In such families, both spouses are likely working full-time, perhaps longer hours than usual, and without the use of their typical childcare.
Military families are having to be more creative, resourceful, and resilient to overcome challenges posed by COVID-19. Luckily, there are plenty of resources available to families to keep them strong and healthy during this time. Military One Source has compiled a list of resources for military families staying home, including mental health resources, travel and financial information, online learning tools, and tips for staying healthy at home. You can find a series of helpful articles at https://www.militaryonesouce.mil/coronavirus. 3 For those families concerned about childcare, Child Care Aware has research and referral agencies to assist military families in finding childcare. Additionally, they also have updated information about child care closures due to COVID-19 in every state. To learn more, visit https://www.childcareaware.org/coronavirus-landing-page/. 4 For parents finding themselves filling the role of teacher or needing assistance in talking to their children about the coronavirus, the American Montessori Society has compiled a wealth of free resources, which can be found at https://amshq.org/COVID19.5The resources available for military families continue to update and change as efforts to manage the pandemic evolve.
As important as resources are to the health and well-being of our military families, much of the resilience these resources attempt to access or bolster are already built into our military families. Military families are subjected to normative stressors associated with military life that may increase their flexibility and adaptability to the COVID-19 pandemic. Military kids, for example, are intimately familiar with separations and frequent changes to their environment. Many of the transitions accompanying the military lifestyle have been bridged by technology. Technology has allowed military kids to keep in contact with a deployed parent or with extended family and friends located in other states. As stay at home orders continue, kids and families are having to rely on technology for social connection. Parents are also having to get creative in developing lesson plans and supplemental homeschooling activities as schools remain closed. Children used to the transitory nature of the military lifestyle may be better prepared to adjust to such transitions.
Military kids are generally resilient, responsible, and adaptable. Military kids also have access to community resources, healthcare, and economic security that their civilian counterparts may lack at this time. As challenging as these times may be, military kids may have built in coping strategies that aid in their adjustment to COVID-19 restrictions. For those families in which both parents have increased their work from home, military kids may also be enjoying the unexpected additional time with loved ones. Although there is great fear and uncertainty around COVID-19, military families continue to rise to the challenge and support our Service members as the extent to their role in stopping this pandemic fluctuates daily.
The opinions in CDP Staff Perspective blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science or the Department of Defense.
Kaleigh DeSimone, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist and Military Internship Behavioral Health Psychologist at the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. Dr. DeSimone is currently located at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, HI.
1. World Health Organization. (2020). Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019
2. U.S. Department of Defense. (2020, March, 18). FAQ travel restrictions. https://media.defense.gov/2020/Mar/19/2002266939/-1/-1/1/COVID-19-TRAVEL-RESTRICTIONS-FAQ.PDF
4. Child Care Aware of America. (2020). Coronoviru (COVID-19). https://www.childcareaware.org/coronavirus-landing-page/