The impact of posttraumatic stress disorder on partners and children of Australian Vietnam veterans


  • Jan Westerink,

  • Leah Giarratano

  • St John of God Hospital, 177 Grose Vale Road, North Richmond, New South Wales 2754, Australia. Email:

JanWesterink Clinical Psychologist (Correspondence); Leah Giarratano, Clinical Psychologist


Objective: This study explored the emotional and physical health of a group of families of Australian Vietnam veterans suffering posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The aim was to study the impact of PTSD upon the families of the sufferers.

Method: The families of a random sample of Vietnam veterans receiving treatment at a specialist PTSD Unit were invited to participate in this study. Partners of the veterans and children over the age of 15 years were eligible to participate. Four self-report psychometric inventories were administered assessing psychological distress, social climate within their families, self-esteem, and a range of lifestyle issues, including physical health. A control group, consisting of a sample of volunteers, was also surveyed.

Results: The partners of the Vietnam veterans showed significantly higher levels of somatic symptoms, anxiety and insomnia, social dysfunction and depression than the control group. They reported significantly less cohesion and expressiveness in their families and significantly higher levels of conflict. The partners also had significantly lower levels of self-esteem. The children of the veterans reported significantly higher levels of conflict in their families. However, the children showed no significant differences on measures of psychological distress and self-esteem from their matched counterparts.

Conclusions: These findings support overseas studies that indicate that the families of PTSD sufferers are also impacted by the disorder. In this study, the families of Australian Vietnam veterans experienced more conflict and their partners were significantly more psychologically distressed (i.e. somatic symptoms, anxiety, insomnia, social dysfunction, depression and low self-esteem) than a matched control group.