We Must Do Better for Children of Military Members

Nothing gives life meaning more than the honor of being part of something bigger than oneself. I feel that way when I put on my Nemours Children’s badge in the morning, and I know our 9,500 Nemours associates do as well.

Recently, I had the privilege of attending a special event at our Nemours Children’s Hospital, Delaware — co-hosted with Senator Tom Carper and the Elizabeth Dole Foundation — honoring our nation’s military families, and especially their children.

Known as Hidden Helpers, these children and young adults make incredible sacrifices to care for ill or injured military members or veterans, as well as frequently enduring the absence of a beloved parent. Several military families graciously shared their stories, revealing how the trauma of war can lead to a different kind of trauma at home.

Children Are Facing Incredible Challenges, Unseen

I want to share a few of these stories with you. They made me stop and think: What do we know — and not know — about the lives of the people around us?

  • We heard from the mother of a 6-year-old girl who had migraines that no doctor could understand, until someone finally realized they came from the stress of caring for a parent with PTSD.
  • We heard about children being labeled “disruptive” at school because a teacher did not understand what it meant to have a parent get deployed.
  • We heard from a young adult who spent her childhood worried about the smell of a BBQ grill, as it could trigger her father’s flashbacks. When she told her doctors about her own anxiety, they assumed it was because of school, and never asked the right questions.

Helping the Hidden Helpers

There are 2.3 million children in this country who are caregivers to military or veteran family members. We care for some of these kids at Nemours, but they live in every ZIP Code in this country. That is why Nemours joined the Hidden Helpers Coalition and partnered with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation to create a free continuing medical education course on how to provide medical care to children of military members.

We are now helping even more: Just as our clinicians collect a patient’s name and date of birth, they will soon ask if there is a military member in the family. This information will go into the electronic medical record and be shown to every clinician who sees that child.

As Nemours Central Florida Chief Medical Officer Daniel Podberesky, MD, FACR — himself an Air Force veteran — said at the event, military people do not wear signs saying, “I’m a military family and you need to understand what I’m going through.” We want to help take the burden off military families and ensure that our clinicians are asking the right questions to provide the needed support.

Nemours is also committed to adding even more physician-reviewed content focused on military families to KidsHealth.org.

Joining Together to Support the Cause

There was another big announcement at the event: Children’s Hospital Association (CHA) CEO Matthew Cook shared that CHA is joining us in the Hidden Helper Coalition. This is great news for reaching Hidden Helpers nationwide, and we hope many other CHA member hospitals will join us.

I am so proud that Nemours has taken a leading role in helping the children of military families manage the specific issues that can affect their health. Nemours will do its part, but it is a cause that extends from coast to coast. Whether you are a clinician, educator, friend or neighbor, I hope you will learn more about Hidden Helpers and support them as they serve their country on the front lines at home.

R. Lawrence Moss, MD, FACS, FAAP, President and Chief Executive Officer

About Dr. Moss

R. Lawrence Moss, MD, FACS, FAAP is president and CEO of Nemours Children’s Health. Dr. Moss will write monthly in this space about how children’s hospitals can address the social determinants of health and create the healthiest generations of children.