Leading civilian UK centre of excellence for military health research

On Friday 17 June 2022, individuals from – including but not limited to - academia, the UK Ministry of Defence, and Armed Forces charities gathered in-person for the first time since 2020 for the Military Families Invitational Symposium co-hosted by the King’s Centre for Military Health Research (KCMHR), King’s College London and the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research (CIMVHR).

The event was chaired by Prof. Nicola Fear, Dr. Heidi Cramm, and Dr. Rachael Gribble, with a focus on exploring how recent events, particularly the COVID-19 pandemic and the withdrawal of service personnel from Afghanistan in August 2021, have impacted military and Veteran families internationally.

The event started with five presentations exploring the impact of COVID-19 on military families across the UK and within Canada. Presenters included:

  • Dr. Jonathan Leach from NHS England provided insight into the military response to the COVID-19 pandemic and how military operations were used to accelerate vaccine rollout.
  • Erin Lawrence from the Academic Department of Military Mental Health (ADMMH) at King’s College London presented work that is looking at how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted families from the perspective of the service personnel.
  • Dr. Howard Burdett from KCMHR presented findings from the Veterans-CHECK study; a study that looked at the impact of COVID-19 on the health and well-being of ex-serving members of the UK Armed Forces. More information can be found here.
  • Andy Pike, head of Policy and Research at the Royal British Legion discussed the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic for service users of the Royal British Legion.
  • Dr. Heidi Cramm from CIMVHR at Queen’s University provided an international perspective on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Canadian military families.
Clockwise from top left: Dr. Johnathan Leech, Andy Pike, Dr. Heidi Cramm, Dr. Howard Burdett, Erin Lawrence

The second session focused on the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan in August 2021, with presenters including:

  • Work from The Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust detailed various projects that had been funded by them regarding the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
  • Anna Verey from KCMHR provided insight into ADVANCE-INVEST with a focus on how this work will explore the impact of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. More information about can be found here.
  • Dr. Glen Dighton from KCMHR discussed the UK Veterans Family Study; a study looking at the social and psychological factors determining well-being and mental health of Veteran families in the UK. More information about the UK Veterans Family study can be found here.
  • Prof. Nicola Fear, King’s Centre for Military Health Research, King’s College London outlined Phase 4 of the KCMHR Health and Wellbeing study, a longitudinal cohort study following up with those who served during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. More information can be found here.
Clockwise from top left: Anna Verey, Dr. Glen Dighton, Prof. Nicola Fear

The day was wrapped up with fruitful, cross-sector group discussions about the issues that military families have faced since 2020 as well as what military families might be expected to face in the future. Key discussion points included:

  • Military families are affected by similar challenges to the general population, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, economic changes and concerns over climate change, yet these may intensify and amplify the military lifestyle stressors military families already experience.
  • The changing nature of military service, and how, a shift from battlefield deployments to cyber warfare/remote operations makes service life and home life less distinctive. Conversely, there may be changes to deployments and training that increase family separation.
  • The quality and availability of housing and cost of living for military families, especially in the UK where families are increasingly moving from bases out into the community.
  • The changing nature of who military families are today: Who has been previously missed in definitions of family, and as a result, missed from a policy/support perspective? Who needs to be considered moving forward?
  • Technology and social media amplifying potentially traumatic exposures experienced by military families, particularly children and young adults, who may not have been previously exposed to world events without access to this technology/social media.

Following the event, Dr. Heidi Cramm shared:

We have much to share and learn from one another when it comes to military families; having the opportunity to engage in rich discussions about emerging topics proved fruitful and sparked new insights that will inform research, policy, and practice for military and veteran families.” 

Prof. Nicola Fear reflected:

So much has changed over the past few years; it is critical we ask questions that are relevant to this rapidly evolving landscape.
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