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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