Date Presented 03/31/2022

This presentation will focus on adult military dependents and their perspective on growing up in the military culture in relation to current habits and behaviors associated with social participation, sleep hygiene, sexual health, and substance use. Participants will gain an understanding of the health choices of this population that may inform assessment and treatment approaches.

Primary Author and Speaker: Caitlin Walsh

Additional Authors and Speakers: Karla Colina

Contributing Authors: Twylla Kirchen

In 2019, a pediatric journal estimated that there are 4 million children in the United States over the age of five who are connected to the military, including veterans, active duty and reserve branches. Children who are connected to military culture face specific challenges that align with military culture (Huebner, C.R.). As these children age and transition into adulthood, their childhood experiences can affect the way they view and interact with the world around them. Current research exists regarding military members, active and retired but there is a gap in literature describing how military culture affects dependents. According to Huebner (2019), 50% of military children receive health care services through the civilian sector which means that these children are not using resources directly related to the military. And as such the unique aspects of military culture may not be understood or addressed. A scoping review conducted by Cramm et al, 2016 examined occupational therapists who work with military dependents and highlighted the need for therapists to be knowledgeable about this population and their vulnerabilities. This study reflected the various mental health challenges experienced by military children. A study by Chandra et al, 2010 stated that caregivers and military dependents reported child emotional difficulties at a higher rate than the general population. Researchers acknowledge that the Chandra et al study is dated, but feel it is relevant to the overall study because the findings directly correlate with current research study. As occupational therapists, children of service members could benefit from age-appropriate occupational therapy services to address sleep hygiene, healthy relationships and education about substance use and sexual health. Addressing these areas through occupational therapy-led programming on military installations and communities may be beneficial for dependents of service members as they transition into adulthood. The purpose of the study was to survey 50 adult dependents of service members to gain their perspective of how growing up within the military culture affected their adult-based health choices related to: social participation, sleep hygiene, sexual health and substance use. Data analysis indicated that there was a correlation between self-reported deficits of adult military dependents in the areas of sexual health and substance abuse. Occupational therapists working with adults who were dependents of service members may benefit from the results of this study as it may inform assessment and intervention approaches as well as referrals of patients to other disciplines. In addition, this work may promote policy development and specific programming to support the holistic needs of children of service members. Enacting policy changes for children of service members could potentially impact healthy, adaptive lifestyle changes in the areas of sexual health, substance use, social participation and sleep hygiene therefore, improving the health, well-being and quality of life of adult children of service members.


Cramn, H., Aiken, A., McColl, M. (2016). Mental health and children in military families: A scoping review of issues and needs. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy 70(Suppl. 1), 70115050881.

Huebner, C. R. (2019). Health and mental health needs of children in US military families. Pediatrics, 143(1),

Chandra, A., Lara-Cinisomo, S., Jaycox, L. H., Tanielian, T., Burns, R. M., Han, B. (2010). Children on the homefront: The experience of children from military families, Pediatrics, 125(1), 16-25.