National Academies releases report on strengthening military families

Deployment and the general challenges of military life affect not only service members but also the families who depend on them as they support the nation. And the needs of military families reflect the diverse needs of modern American families.

A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine — “Strengthening the Military Family Readiness System for a Changing American Society” — reviews challenges and opportunities facing military families and what is known about effective strategies for supporting and protecting military children and families. The report, which was co-authored by MFRI’s Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth and an esteemed committee of leaders, assessed available data and research on military children and families, including those who have left the military, with attention to differences by race, ethnicity, and other factors.

Undertaken by the National Academies’ Committee on the Well-Being of Military Families, the study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense and focuses on its Military Family Readiness System (MFRS), a network of agencies, programs, services, and individuals that promotes the well-being and quality of life of military service members and their families.

The report found that DOD’s MFRS has many good features and offers support not usually available in the private sector; however, it could be strengthened in a number of ways, including by though attention to a more comprehensive, coordinated framework to support well-being, resilience, and readiness.

Recommendations included that DOD strengthen the MFRS so that it:

  • Provides a comprehensive continuum of support across providers, locations, and changing benefit eligibility.
  • Facilitates adaptive and timely approaches to stepped service delivery according to individual family needs.
  • Draws upon effective evidence-based or evidence-informed approaches.
  • Integrates routine screening and assessment tools into the delivery of family support programs.
  • Builds and employs a robust infrastructure of both implementation and outcome data that supports continuous quality improvement.
  • Coordinates referrals and care across military and nonmilitary resources, institutions, and communities.

The report also recommends that the DOD promote better civilian understanding, both within military community and the broader community, of the strengths and needs of military-connected individuals, addressing misinformation, negative stereotypes, and lack of knowledge commonly found in the civilian sector about military life and service members.


About the National Academies: The National Academies are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln. For more information, visit

MFRI unveils updated How to Help issue for caregivers

MFRI introduces a newly-updated How to Help issue today (May 21),  designed especially for professionals working with family caregivers.

The refreshed issue launches in conjunction with the release of a new national-level Measuring Communities Caregiver Snapshot, sponsored by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. The Foundation and its Hidden Heroes campaign aim to raise awareness and resources to improve the lives of 5.5 million loved ones who care for the country’s ill and wounded veterans.

A special two-day celebration of Hidden Heroes Cities begins Wednesday in Indianapolis. Actor Tom Hanks and Gov. Eric Holcomb join Sen. Elizabeth Dole at multiple events.

During the celebration, MFRI Senior Director Kathy Broniarczyk attends a luncheon panel that includes Indianapolis mayor Joe Hogsett and Boston mayor Rob Santiago. Broniarczyk will explain the purpose of Measuring Communities and the role of the Caregiver Snapshot, which was made possible after the Foundation gathered and provided the data for use in the Measuring Communities tool. 

On Thursday, a special one-hour edition of NBC News’ TODAY will be co-anchored by Hanks and Savannah Guthrie live from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It will highlight military and veteran family caregivers.

MFRI is honored to partner with the Foundation in its efforts to make lives better for military and veteran caregivers. We applaud the nation’s Hidden Heroes Cities who are dedicated to streamlining services and sharing best practices with their communities and beyond.

Participants sought: Conversations about post-deployment adjustment

University of South Florida researchers are seeking eligible military spouses or significant others to participate in a study that seeks to understand the experiences of partners who have (or have had) concerns about their service member’s post-deployment adjustment.

The research results may inform programs that assist military and veteran families.

Participation in the study involves two steps. First, spouses/significant others will take a 10-minute online survey to make sure they are eligible. The survey will also ask about their relationship history. Second, those interested in participating in a 45-60 minute follow-up video chat interview will be asked to provide contact information for scheduling purposes. The interviewer will inquire about their ideas and experiences as a military spouse or partner.

Those who complete the survey will receive a $5 digital Amazon gift card. Those who elect to participate in the interview will receive an additional $20 Amazon gift card upon its completion.

Only the researchers will see the information provided, except as may be required by law. No military organizations will have access to this data. If a report of this study is published or presented at a professional conference, no identifying information will be used.

In order to be eligible for the research, participants must:

  • be the spouse/significant other of a military service member or veteran;
  • have been married or together since before the service member’s most recent deployment;
  • have had one or more conversations with the service member about the challenges of readjusting to civilian life post-deployment; and
  • be 18 years old or older.

The service member or veteran must have (a) served in the U.S. military, (b) been deployed abroad (outside of the United States), and (c) returned from the most recent overseas deployment within the last two years.

For more information, or to participate in the research, email

MFRI’s “War and Family Life” reviewed in scholarly journal

A 2016 research text, part of Springer’s Risk and Resilience in Military and Veteran Families series, has garnered praise for its fresh perspectives in the study of military-connected families.

The Journal of Family Theory and Review recently contained a review on “War and Family Life.” Each chapter in the book was based on a presentation given at the 2013 International Research Symposium on Military and Veteran Families.

“The editors and contributors to this book are to be commended for their efforts to extend the focus of military research beyond service members and veterans to include family members,” wrote reviewers Heidi Cramm, assistant professor at Canada’s Queens University and Deborah Norris, associate professor at Mount Saint Vincent University, also located in Canada.

According to Cramm and Norris, “War and Family Life” expressly moves beyond the descriptive state of military family research to tease apart the multiple, complex factors at play in the daily lives of military families.

This unique resource provides findings and insights regarding the multiple impacts of military duty on service members and veterans, specifically from a family standpoint. Broad areas of coverage include marital and family relationships, parenting issues, family effects of war injuries, and family concerns of single service members.

“It is also refreshing to read research (e.g., Chapters 5 and 6) that offers perspectives other than those often reported in the military family literature, for example, the negative sequelae of PTSD on military families, particularly decreased family functioning and decreased marital satisfaction (Lambert, Engh, Hasbun, & Holzer 2012; Monson, Taft, & Fredman, 2009),” the scholars wrote.

“War and Family Life” was edited by Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth, director of MFRI, and David Riggs, executive director of the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP). The book was published by Springer in 2016.

The Journal of Family Theory and Review is a quarterly peer-reviewed academic journal published by Wiley-Blackwell on behalf of the National Council on Family Relations.

Battlemind to Home Summit a resounding success

Nearly 300 behavioral health, legal and service providers gathered in Indianapolis Tuesday to increase their knowledge and strengthen community supports for veterans, service members and their families.

Battlemind to Home Summit is one of the most engaging military and veteran health summits in the state. The summit is hosted by the Military Family Research Institute, in partnership with the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical CenterIndiana National Guard and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Its purpose is to increase community awareness about the challenges and opportunities that are unique to military and veteran families. Ever expanding, this year’s featured content addressed legal needs for the first time. It also addressed physical and mental health concerns, and offered information about creating and increasing sense of community for military personnel.

In one breakout session, attendees learned ways to engage veterans as community assets. Another session focused on increasing community awareness about families and caregivers of veterans. Finally, another breakout presented suicide gatekeeper training to help attendees understandi how to “Question, persuade, and refer” an at-risk individual. Judge Dave Certo and the Indiana State Bar Association presented a mock veterans treatment court to educate attendees about diversion court benefits, and Sgt. 1st Class Gregory Stube (Ret.) presented a powerful afternoon keynote detailing his lessons learned from the battlefield.

Next year, Battlemind to Home Summit turns 10, and MFRI looks forward to hosting the summit at Purdue University. The event temporarily leaves Indianapolis to enable more service providers through the state to attend. To be notified about Battlemind to Home Summit 2019 programming and registration, complete this form. You can also find information about Battlemind on social media by following MFRI on Twitter using #battlemindIN, and “liking” MFRI on Facebook.

Indiana community mourns the passing of beloved former MFRI assistant director

Military Family Research Institute staff, students and the wider Indiana community are mourning the death of former Assistant Director and Air Force veteran Martina Sternberg, Ph.D., who died Sept. 2 in Navarre, Florida.

The 53-year-old veteran dedicated her career to military-connected families, and her passion for making people’s lives better is a theme that will live on at MFRI. She was an integral part of building Battlemind to Home Summit into the collaborative success it is today.

“Martina will always be remembered as person with a huge heart and an exuberant spirit,” said Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth, director of MFRI. “She was an enormous part of building MFRI’s work, and above all was a wonderful and supportive coworker and friend.”

Community mobilizer, tireless advocate

Martina was an active member of her community, participating in local programs to assist those in need. She started a Trauma Intervention Program in Florida and the Grandparents Raising Grandkids Association. With a smile that could brighten the room, her enormous personality and wealth of selflessness will be sorely missed by all.

At MFRI, she led community mobilization efforts, expanding them to include work on behalf of student veterans and rural veterans. Her relentless work with homeless veterans helped thousands via fundraisers, benefits, and Stand Downs, which earned her several prestigious awards, including the Distinguished Hoosier Award presented by the Governor of Indiana, and the Veteran of the Year Award. Martina was a prominent gay rights advocate, and as a result, was invited to the White House when President Obama signed the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

Bright light, ‘big influence’ and mentor

Phil Turner, MFRI veteran justice outreach specialist, worked with her before being hired at MFRI.

“I remember Martina being an influence in my life and we didn’t even know each other that well,” he said. “In my small hometown in northeastern Indiana, we were struggling to find resources to help our local veterans. Under Martina’s leadership we gained a veteran Stand Down program that still is being used to this day. After joining MFRI, Martina became a mentor. I will always be thankful for her leadership and care for military and veteran families.”

Martina was a bright light in this world and touched many lives by broadcasting her radiance. After her time at MFRI, she moved to Florida where she is survived by her husband Scott Sternberg, daughter Jessica Craig, grandson Gabriel Craig and other beloved family members. She was preceded in death by her mother Dolores Henry, her son Joshua Craig and her brother Martin Preston.

Visitation will be Sept. 9 from 1:30-3:30 p.m. at Harper-Morris Memorial Chapel. Funeral services will be Sept. 10 at 10 a.m. at St. Sylvester’s Catholic Church.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to Gabriel’s Trust Fund.

Visualizing data and Measuring Communities

Measuring Communities is a social indicators initiative designed to help shape community efforts to support military and veteran families. This web-based tool assembles, makes available and visually represents data about the state of these families, which communities can use to identify and address gaps in services to better serve them. MFRI created this landmark initiative in partnership with the Purdue Center for Regional Development.

Student engagement at MFRI

MFRI’s internship opportunities offer Purdue University students the chance to earn course credits, build their resumes and enhance their knowledge. Interns and student workers participate on all MFRI teams as they learn about military members, veterans and their families. MFRI is proud to work in collaboration with Purdue departments to educate future leaders.

MFRI’s Focus Forward Fellowship serves women student veterans

MFRI’s 2018 Focus Forward Fellowship designed to build skills, leadership and a sense of community among women student veterans, will take place at Purdue University. The Fellowship takes place July 25–28, with Fellows traveling home on July 29th.

In 2017 two cohorts totaling 28 participants completed the Fellowship. One national cohort was open to women student veterans across the country, while a Colorado University-specific cohort took place in Fort Collins, Colorado. The 2017 program focused on refining the learning objectives from the 2016 pilot year. These objectives include building a community support network with peers in the Fellowship program, increased network-building, recognition and application of personal strengths and the integration of their veteran identity with other identities in their personal life.

Collectively among all the cohorts, the program has influences 41 women representing all five branches of service, 35 higher education institutions and 21 states. The fellows have an average GPA of 3.39 with the 2017 cohort being 19% STEM focused.

A 2017 Fellow said, “When this opportunity was presented, I felt like it was fate. Who better to progress women veterans than fellow women veterans?”

The 2018 Fellowship applications open in February.

MFRI director receives Leadership in Action award

Leadership in Action Award recipientsShelley MacDermid Wadsworth, professor of human development and family studies and director of MFRI, was honored to receive Purdue’s Susan Bulkeley Butler Center Leadership in Action Award on Dec. 5.

The Leadership in Action Award recognizes Purdue faculty, staff, and students who have shown exemplary leadership within their areas of expertise.
Recipients must demonstrate:

  • Overarching commitment to launching tomorrow’s leaders by showing ongoing dedication to mentoring students, colleagues and/or peers to pursue excellence and fostering an atmosphere of cooperation and creativity that contributes to the efficiency and effectiveness of their peers.
  • Favorable representation of their department and the University, both on and off campus.
  • Skillful motivation, organization, dedication and/or influence within their area of research, discipline or other work.
  • Ongoing commitment to engagement at the local, state, national and/or global level.
  •  Active service to the campus community as well as national service to academic and/or professional organizations.

Three other Leadership in Action award honorees were recognized: Pamela Morris, Chanel Beebe and Michelle Ashcraft.