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Veterans-by-proxy: A conceptual framework of ambiguous loss among children of combat veterans

APA Citation:

Kelly, D., & Paul, M. (2018). Veterans-by-proxy: A conceptual framework of ambiguous loss among children of combat veterans. Journal of Family Social Work, 21 (4/5), 255-270. https://doi.org/10.1080/10522158.2017.1321605

Abstract Created by REACH:

When Veterans experience trauma, such as that encountered in combat zones, their relatives, including children, can also be affected. This article described the conceptual framework of “Veterans-by-proxy,” a term for children of Veterans impacted by their Veteran parent’s trauma. The Veterans-by-proxy framework explains how Veteran parents’ trauma can impact their child’s development via secondary traumatic stress, ambiguous loss, and insecure attachment. Notably, the framework also highlights protective factors and intervention approaches that promote resilience within Veterans-by-proxy.


Mental health

Branch of Service:

Multiple branches

Military Affiliation:


Subject Affiliation:

Child of a service member or veteran
Military families


Childhood (birth - 12 yrs)
Adolescence (13 - 17 yrs)
Adulthood (18 yrs & older)


Review of Literature


Kelly, Diann, Paul, Marilyn


There are tens of millions of children (youth and adult) of parents who are veterans. These individuals can experience traumatic injury alongside the parent who is a combat veteran. It is a parallel process called “veterans-by-proxy.” A proxy is an individual that acts on behalf of another individual. The proxy witnesses how combat traumatizes their parent and vicariously experience the trauma themselves. When a proxy suffers secondary trauma, ambiguous loss, and insecure attachment, one or more ego functions fail to adequately develop. This article proposes a conceptual framework of the proxy’s loss as it relates to the parent’s trauma and discusses research-based resiliency-focused interventions critical to healing the relationship between the proxy and the parent who is a combat veteran.

Publisher/Sponsoring Organization:

Taylor & Francis

Publication Type:

REACH Publication

Author Affiliation:

Adelphi University, School of Social Work, DCK
Substance Abuse Rehab Facility at Arms Acres, SW


veterans, military families, resilience, Ambiguous loss, children of veterans, insecure attachment, secondary trauma

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REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary

REACH Newsletter:

  October 2023

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