Developing and conducting national field research with a unique sub-population: A brief report

Since 9/11/2001, over 16,000 service members have died on active status in the United States (U.S.) military conservatively impacting 160,000 survivors (DoD, 2012).  In the U.S., 72.3 percent of all deaths occur among those 65 and older and 80 percent are from natural causes (CDC, 2009).  The majority of military deaths involve the death of a young adult that are from violent and/or sudden circumstances (Harrington-LaMorie & McDevitt-Murphy, 2011).

Grief is a normative reaction to death loss (Worden, 2009), however research suggests that 10% to 20% of bereaved persons suffer from more complicated grief reactions (Shear, Frank, Houck, & Reynolds, 2005). Loss by traumatic means also lends to a high vulnerability to psychological trauma (Rynearson, 2006) and the potential for complicated bereavement (Shear, 2005).

Along with circumstantial factors, unlike those experienced in civilian society, there are unique characteristics of a military death that may serve as both risk and/or protective factors for this highly distinctive, young and vulnerable bereaved population.

To date, there is a lack of research on the impact of the death of a U.S. Armed Service member on their surviving families (Harrington-LaMorie, 2011).  Whereas the general body of bereavement research is growing, there is a continued need for research into the understanding and care of vulnerable sub-groups.  The need for high-quality end-of-life and bereavement research has been widely recognized (Briller, Schim, Meert & Thurston, 2008).

The National Military Family Bereavement Study is a congressionally directed medical research project conducting landmark field research into the impact of an active duty service member death on surviving families.   This presentation will include preliminary data collected from an initial group of eligible survivors at a social support seminar in August 2012.  There will be a special focus on bereavement field research strategies employed with a bereaved military surviving community.