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Associations of warzone veteran and intimate partner PTSD symptoms with child depression, anxiety, hyperactivity, and conduct problems

APA Citation:

MacDonald, H. Z., Franz, M. R., Kaiser, A. P., Lee, L. O., Lawrence, A. E., Fairbank, J. A., & Vasterling, J. J. (2023). Associations of warzone veteran and intimate partner PTSD symptoms with child depression, anxiety, hyperactivity, and conduct problems. Military Behavioral Health. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1080/21635781.2023.2246894

Abstract Created by REACH:

This study examined the relationship between parental posttraumatic stress (PTS), children’s stressful life experiences, and children’s behavioral health outcomes among 133 military families. Army Service members and Veterans (SM/Vs) who had been deployed to a warzone, along with their intimate partners (i.e., civilian parents), completed separate evaluations to assess their own PTS. Civilian parents reported their children’s stressful life events, depressive and anxiety symptoms, hyperactivity, and conduct problems. Overall, more severe civilian parent PTS, but not SM/V PTS, was related to more severe child depressive symptoms.


Mental health

Branch of Service:


Military Affiliation:


Subject Affiliation:

Spouse of service member or veteran
Child of a service member or veteran
Military families


Childhood (birth - 12 yrs)
Adolescence (13 - 17 yrs)
Adulthood (18 yrs & older)
Young adulthood (18 - 29 yrs)
Thirties (30 - 39 yrs)
Middle age (40 - 64 yrs)


MacDonald, Helen Z., Franz, Molly R., Kaiser, Anica Pless, Lee, Lewina O., Lawrence, Amy E., Fairbank, John A., Vasterling, Jennifer J.


Warzone deployment increases risk for posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms (PTSS), including among service members who have children. Parental PTSS are associated with child depression, anxiety, hyperactivity, and conduct problems, yet few studies of child behavioral health outcomes in military populations have accounted for PTSS in both warzone veterans and their partners. Fewer still incorporate non-clinically-recruited samples of nationally dispersed warzone veterans and their families. The current research examines whether children whose parent(s) have higher levels of PTSS exhibit more behavioral health symptoms. One hundred and thirty-three Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans and their cohabitating partners completed clinical interviews and self-report questionnaires. Higher intimate partner PTSS, more extensive child exposure to stressful life events, and being an adolescent were significantly associated with child depression after adjusting for warzone veteran PTSS, demographics, and recent warzone veteran absence from the household. Greater child exposure to stressful life events was also associated with child conduct problems. Treatment of PTSD symptoms experienced by warzone veterans’ intimate partners, and preventative interventions aimed at helping the children of warzone veterans cope with stress, may ultimately yield positive benefits for the behavioral health of children in military families.

Publication Type:

REACH Publication


adolescents, children, conduct problems, deployment, depression, military, Posttraumatic stress, stressful life events, veterans, warzone

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REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary

REACH Newsletter:

  December 2023

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