Helping military families help themselves

July 2, 2008
Mark Wheeler

For a civilian, it's hard to fathom the stress a military family faces when a parent and spouse is sent to combat zones in Iraq or Afghanistan. Long, and often multiple, wartime deployments take a toll not only on the service member on the front lines but on family members back at home.

According to recent figures released by the Rand Corp., one in five veterans of these two wars may suffer from psychological health problems, which can add strain on military family members. Now, a program initiated at UCLA and supported by the U.S. Navy's Bureau of Medicine and Surgery is reaching out to military families to help prevent the personal and family problems such stress can bring. Project FOCUS (Families OverComing Under Stress) is now being rolled out to nine military bases across the nation and in Okinawa, Japan.

Given that about 40 percent of U.S. service members are parents, a large number of military families are at risk and stand to benefit from what FOCUS can offer - targeted coping skills that are designed to be preventive. The FOCUS program provides both parents and children customized training that will address the impact of wartime deployment on families, and helps them learn very specific communication and problem-solving skills to address these challenges. In addition, FOCUS trainers will provide outreach to groups within military communities to raise awareness about the kinds of pressures families face and to let them know help is available to cope with deployment.

FOCUS was developed, through collaboration with the military, by a team from UCLA and Harvard University Medical School to meet the needs of military children and families. The team is led by the UCLA Center for Community Health, which specializes in the development, evaluation and dissemination of prevention and treatment interventions for children and families, and by the UCLA-Duke National Center for Child Traumatic Stress, a unique collaboration of academic and community-based service centers nationwide whose mission is to raise the standard of care and increase access to services for traumatized children and their families across the United States.

For more information please contact the FOCUS team at or 310-794-2482.