Psychosocial Needs of US Active Duty Military Service Members and Spouses with Cancer: a Qualitative Study
Current United States active duty military (AD) service members and spouses are at an increased risk of developing various types of cancer at a higher rate reported than their military predecessors (Defense Health Research Programs, 2017; Zhu et al., 2009; Steinmaus, Lu, Todd, & Smith, 2004). Active duty service members and spouses also face challenges not faced by their civilian counterparts because of the military lifestyle and “mission first” culture. These challenges can include being geographically separated from families, friends, and other support systems, along with deployments, frequent moves, and the lack of consistent support systems. Therefore, when AD service members and spouses are diagnosed with cancer psychosocial needs may not be met. The research and literature surrounding the psychosocial needs of AD military service members and spouses with cancer are limited as the current research focuses mainly on non-military affiliated groups or veterans. The purpose of this qualitative research was to understand the psychosocial needs of US AD service members and spouses diagnosed with cancer. Data from semi-structured interviews provided insight that facilitated understanding these psychosocial needs. Participants discussed support systems, relationships, psychological and emotional responses, and ways the military environment both supported and lacked support during their cancer journey. Participants further noted that some of the barriers included not knowing what support systems were available and availability depended upon geographic location and how “close” the community was; not having to pay any out-of-pocket costs; and that chains of command inconsistently supported their service members and families. The results of this study have implications for social workers who work within the military structure as well as civilian providers. Ensuring that AD service members and spouses know the available resources, both through the military and in the civilian community, is one area that can improve the psychosocial outcomes of AD service members and spouses with cancer. The results also show the importance in understanding the stressors that cause additional mental and physical barriers, unique to the military environment, during treatment and into survivorship. Participants were eager to have their voices heard and wanted to ensure that fellow AD service members and spouses with cancer have improved experiences with health care systems and support.