Does Branch of Service Influence Risk for Psychological Problems in Veterans?

With the wars in the Middle East coming to an end, there will be a dramatic increase in the number of veterans returning from Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). These veterans hail from every branch of our armed forces, including the reserves. Many of the returning soldiers will need professional help to cope with the negative psychological problems they have developed as a result of serving, especially those who have seen combat or have served in multiple deployments. For mental health providers, identifying which types of mental health challenges will be most prevalent and if the type of service or gender of the soldier affects illness onset, are important factors for the design and delivery of appropriate treatments.

Susan V. Eisen of the Center for Health Quality Outcomes and Economic Research at the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Massachusetts addressed this public health concern by surveying 596 veterans who recently returned from OIF and OEF. One quarter of the participants were reserve military personnel, while the other 75% were full-time soldiers. Eisen discovered that when compared to nonveteran members of the population, the veterans had higher rates of psychological issues, with nearly 40% of them, mostly men, showing signs of alcohol misuse. Surprisingly, the physical condition of the veterans was very similar to the physical health status of nonveterans, but Eisen believes this could be due in part to the high levels of physical fitness that the veterans maintained during deployment, as well as their relatively young age compared to nonveterans overall.

The study also demonstrated that the Marine and Army veterans had the highest rates of mental health problems, including alcohol and drug misuse and posttraumatic stress (PTSD), but that gender played no role in determining the level of psychological health of the participants. However, Eisen found that over time, although the veterans experienced decreases in symptom severity for anxiety and depression, symptoms of PTSD increased. The findings of this study emphasize the need for targeted prevention and treatment for our returning veterans. Eisen added, “Continuing identification of veterans at risk for mental health and substance use problems is important for evidence-based interventions intended to increase resilience and enhance treatment.”

Eisen, S. V., Schultz, M. R., Vogt, D., Glickman, M. E., Elwy, R. A., Drainoni, M. L., et al. Mental and physical health status and alcohol and drug use following return from deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. American Journal of Public Health 102.1 (2012): S66-73.

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  • Helen

    March 29th, 2012 at 3:46 PM

    This confirms exactly what I was thinking. I thought that army soldiers and marines would have a more difficult time coping because they are the ones who see more front line action.

  • Jennifer Stern

    March 29th, 2012 at 4:51 PM

    Well, I think that we have to take a step back and think about is it really the branch that you are serving in or is the proximity to the actual war that is going to determine what kinds of psychological stresses you will be dealt. No matter what area of the service you are in, if you are a soldier and see war up close and personal then it is certain to have some kinf of effect on you that may not be all that pleasant. You will see things and have to do things that the rest of us cannot even imagine.

  • lorna

    March 30th, 2012 at 4:08 AM

    look at this last guy who went nuts in Afghanistan- he had been deployed time after time, had even suffered an injury that shpuld have kept him sidelined yet the military still found him fit to serve. And now almost 20 innocent civilians are dead as a result. If there is anyone who does not think that this kind of service can turn into major problems for your mental well being, I think that this is the proof that they need that it does.

  • Blake L

    March 30th, 2012 at 3:17 PM

    Of course branch of service matters because what branch you are in determines the level of fighting that you will see.

    I don’t think there’s anybody out there who would say that guys in the navy or air force will see more action than the army guys and marines. That’s not how the dice rolls.

    The air force and navy are a little more elite, commanding from the outside, while the army and marines are always on the front lines. They will be involved in more skirmishes and be more hands on in the action. It therefore stands to reason that if anyone is going to be adversely affected it will be them.

  • James.m

    March 31st, 2012 at 12:35 AM

    lorna:yes,I thought our armed forces would know better to identify and get help for the troubled individuals rather than send them on service and end up having not only bad PR but also resulting in a loss of innocent lives most of whom were children and women.

  • Shari Thurer

    March 31st, 2012 at 12:40 PM

    I’ve been treating active duty military for over three years. It is a very hard life even when folks are not in active combat as it entails constant relocation and separation. Very hard to maintain intimate relations with loved ones. Hats off to these self-sacrificing individuals

  • Zane

    April 1st, 2012 at 5:02 AM

    Don’t let these men and women returning home from war fall thru the cracks. They are bound to need some help and support, and we have to show them thru love and this support that we appreciate all that they have done for us. Some forget to do this because of their own selfish reasons or because politically they may disagree with the wars. But that should have no bearing on whether or not we provide a net of support for those who have returned from the front and now need to find a way to reintigrate into society. Don’t shut them and their families out because there will be a lot of need there that we need to try to fulfill.

  • beck

    April 2nd, 2012 at 11:10 AM

    What are we supposed to do, force them to get treatment if that is not something that they are ready to face?

    If they don’t want the help you know it’s not going to do any good to interfere until that are at the right point to accept that interference.

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