The Department of Veterans’ Affairs Family Study Program directed the Timor Leste Family Study team to investigate two research aims, as follows.
Research aim 1
To determine what, if any, physical, mental, or social health impacts there are on a service member’s family from the member’s deployment to Timor-Leste.
The study team defined a member’s family as the member and their current partner and/or their former partner(s) and children living with those current and/or former partner(s). A partner is defined as a spouse, a person in a de facto relationship or a person in a long-term relationship with the member. A member’s deployment to Timor-Leste is defined as any deployment to Timor-Leste with the ADF between 1999 and 2010, as recorded in the Department of Defence Human Resources system.
Hypotheses related to research aim 1
1. There will be a difference between the partners of ADF members who were deployed to Timor-Leste and those who were not deployed to Timor-Leste on measures of physical, mental, and family health.
2. There will be a difference between the children of ADF members who were deployed to Timor-Leste and those who were not deployed to Timor-Leste on a measure of emotions and behaviour.
Note. The study team changed the term ‘social health’ in research aim 1 to ‘family health’ in hypothesis 1 in order to promote the concept of the family as a unit of health and so that ‘social health’ would not be confused with the risk and protective variable of social support.
Research aim 2
To identify any risk and protective factors associated with any health impacts.
The study team examined the literature seeking information about risk and protective factors for military families’ health. Risk and protective factors can exacerbate or ameliorate effects associated with military life for partners and children. Some factors may can both a risk factor and a protective factor; for example, social support is a protective factor but an absence of social support is a risk factor. Health impacts are defined as any health differences, positive or negative, for partners and children of ADF members.
2. For the partners and children of ADF members, there will be associations between identified risk and protective factors (excluding deployment frequency) and health impacts.
3. There will be associations between an ADF member’s physical, mental, and family health and their current partner’s physical, mental, and family health.
4. There will be associations between an ADF member’s physical and mental health and their child’s emotional and behavioural health.
5. There will be associations between an ADF member’s physical and mental health, their partner’s physical and mental health, and their child’s emotional and behavioural health.
In order to conduct the Timor-Leste Family Study ethical approval from three Human Research Ethics Committees was required: the Department of Veterans’ Affairs HREC, the Australian Defence HREC, and the University of Queensland Behavioural and Social Sciences Ethical Review Committee. The study was divided into three phases, and separate approval was sought for each phase, as shown in Table 1.1. The approvals are presented in Appendix A, which also lists the members of the DVA Scientific Advisory Committee and the Consultative Forum.
Table 1.1 Human Research Ethics Committees’ approvals
1. Development of the nominal roll (the contact details for the ADF member sample)
2. Qualitative research
3. Self-report questionnaire
2 Study development
A number of activities helped the study team to develop the content and process of the research—a literature review, a review of previous research, a development workshop, qualitative research, and a pilot study.
In 2007 the Centre for Military and Veterans’ Health produced a DVA-funded research protocol for investigating the intergenerational health effects of service in the military. A systematic literature review, which formed part of the protocol, examined the evidence for effects of military service on spouses, children and family functioning.
This review was updated in 2009 to focus specifically on the effects of deployment. Four main themes were identified:
effects on children’s mental wellbeing and child maltreatment rates
effects on the health and wellbeing of spouses
deployment-related intimate partner violence
secondary traumatisation of the spouses of veterans affected by Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.
The review results helped the study team develop the content of the qualitative research and the self-report questionnaire.
The Intergenerational Health Effects of Service in the Military: literature review (2007) is available on the DVA website (www.dva.gov.au). A summary of the 2009 Timor-Leste Family Study literature review is presented here as Appendix B.