March 2, 2008 in Nation/World

Despite strain of deployments, military divorce rate steady

Pauline Jelinek Associated Press

Programs designed to help couples

•The Marines have offered workshops to teach couples to manage conflict, solve problems and communicate better. The Navy started a similar program.

•The Army has started paying for what it calls its “Family Covenant,” a broad initiative of services and facilities to improve the quality of life for military families. It includes improving health care, schools, housing and child care.

•Army chaplains have trained some 60,000 active duty and reservists in the “Strong Bonds” program for strengthening personal relationships.

•Troops also get mental-health training in a program that teaches about problems to expect at home as troops readjust to domestic life.

WASHINGTON – The divorce rate in the armed forces held steady last year at 3.3 percent, a surprising finding given the stress that marriages are under during persistent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some veterans questioned whether the figure, reported by the Pentagon, presents an accurate picture. But defense officials credited efforts in recent years to support couples enduring uncommonly long separations and other hardships because of those wars.

The divorce rate represented more than 25,000 failed marriages among the nearly 755,000 married active duty troops in all military branches between Oct. 1, 2006, and Oct. 1, 2007.

The Defense Department data showed that the Army, the service with the largest number of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, had a rate of 3.2 percent, unchanged from the previous year. That amounted to 8,748 divorces among the approximately 275,000 married soldiers.

Last year was the deadliest yet for U.S. troops in the wars. In addition, Army couples had to cope with extended separations because tours of duty lasted 15 months rather than 12 months.

Those longer deployments and multiple tours required of many troops have been widely blamed for unprecedented stresses on military couples. Spouses at home must manage families and households without their partners.

The strain also has contributed to higher suicide rates and more mental health problems among troops.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the divorce rate for the general population was 3.6 per 1,000 people in 2005 – the most recent statistics available; that was the lowest rate since 1970.

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