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Needs assessment of surviving military families: Clinical symptoms and the parent-child relationship

APA Citation:

Burgin, E. E., Prosek, E. A., Shin, K., Cunningham, V. L., & Ponder, W. N. (2024). Needs assessment of surviving military families: Clinical symptoms and the parent-child relationship. Counseling Outcome Research and Evaluation, 15(1), 37-50. https://doi.org/10.1080/21501378.2023.2257236

Abstract Created by REACH:

This study describes the results of a needs assessment of bereaved military families who received services from a non-profit organization. 64 caregivers of children under 19-years old with a deceased military parent reported their own anxiety and depressive symptoms, resilience (i.e., ability to recover after stress), complicated grief (i.e., grief symptoms associated with long term functional impairment), parenting stress, and life stress. The study compared the mental health symptoms of caregivers who had and did not have complicated grief. Levels of parenting stress and life stress were examined alongside reports of stress in a non-bereaved sample. Overall, nearly half of the caregivers reported experiencing complicated grief, which was linked to more severe anxiety and depressive symptoms. The bereaved caregivers tended to report greater parenting stress than caregivers in a different, non-bereaved sample.


Mental health

Branch of Service:

Air Force
Marine Corps
Multiple branches

Military Affiliation:

Active Duty

Subject Affiliation:

Parent of a service member or veteran
Spouse of service member or veteran


Adulthood (18 yrs & older)
Thirties (30 - 39 yrs)
Middle age (40 - 64 yrs)


Cross-Sectional Study
Quantitative Study


Burgin, Elizabeth E., Prosek, Elizabeth A., Shin, Kahyen, Cunningham, Victoria L., Ponder, Warren N.


There is limited empirical data to account for the mental health and parent-child relationship outcomes among bereaved military families. The implementation of appropriate programs and mental health interventions depends on the study of relevant demographic and mental health constructs. We report the findings of a needs assessment conducted at a nonprofit organization serving bereaved military families, inclusive of 64 families, with adolescent children (M = 15.04 years, SD = 5.01), who experienced service member loss due to combat (37.5%), suicide (15.6%), homicide or terrorism (10.9%), unintentional self-harm (n = 4.7%), accident (4.7%), or another circumstance (1.6%). Our results align with previous researchers’ findings that surviving military families are at greater risk for problematic grief outcomes, whereby generalized anxiety (t = −3.83, p = .003, d = −0.957) and depressive symptoms (t = −4.28, p = .003, d = −1.07) demonstrate significant differences among complicated and non-complicated grievers. We also found elevated levels of parenting stress. These findings inform recommendations for assessment, program development, and future research for mental health service providers.

Publication Type:

REACH Publication


bereavement, military families, parent-child relationship, complicated grief

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REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary

REACH Newsletter:

  February 2024

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