Effects of Resource Loss Versus Gain in Military Personnel

Veterans of the recent wars in the Middle East are returning home with more physical and psychological problems than veterans from any other previous wars. Although it is promising that our defense department and advanced medical technology can bring home more soldiers than ever before, the challenges that lie before them are staggering. Aside from having to cope with the psychological consequences of war, such as posttraumatic stress (PTSD), depression, and anxiety, these veterans must also reintegrate into civilian society in a time of economic uncertainty and high unemployment. According to the Conservation of Resources (COR) theory, the lack of resources, emotional, financial, material, and physical, can exacerbate symptoms of distress in individuals facing mental health problems. However, it is also thought that resource gain, through secure employment, emotional well-being, and physical well-being, can mediate the negative effects of psychological problems.

To test this theory further, Stevan E. Hobfoll of the Department of Behavioral Science at Rush Medical College in Chicago recently led a study that examined how resource gain and resource loss affected the physical and psychological condition of 796 returning Air Force veterans. Hobfoll evaluated their levels of depression, PTSD, overall health and functioning, and work and family stressors. After analyzing all of the factors, Hobfoll discovered that resource loss and gain affected the soldiers in unique ways. “The results largely support COR theory’s emphasis on the primacy of resource loss and the secondary, but important, influence of resource gains,” said Hobfoll. Specifically, the loss of resources affected the psychological stress of the veterans while resource gain affected their levels of functioning. The findings demonstrated that although loss decreased psychological well-being, it did not decrease functioning. Likewise, resource gain increased functioning but not psychological well-being. In sum, the results of this study show that veterans are affected by the stresses of their circumstances in a variety of ways. Interventions aimed at improving their overall health should focus on minimizing resource loss and maximizing resource gain.

Hobfoll, S. E., Vinokur, A. D., Pierce, P. F., Lewandowski-Romps, L. (2012). The combined stress of family life, work, and war in Air Force men and women: A test of conservation of resources theory. International Journal of Stress Management. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029247

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  • CharlesS

    July 30th, 2012 at 5:23 PM

    Are you kidding me, I fought in the Vietnam War (Conflict) I saw people crippled I saw my friends taken out or what should have been taken out in front of me. This generation is simply not as mentally tough in my opinion. How can a generation that was handed everything that they have ever wanted fight for this country. How can they not come back at a lower functioning state when they were not at a high functioning state to begin with?

  • Will M

    July 30th, 2012 at 11:55 PM

    I do understand that the modern armed forces personnel do have so much weaponry and gadgetry at their disposal compared to the decades before but that does not reduce the gory images that they will be exposed to,the human suffering they are going to see,the feeling that comes with seeing a colleaguye and a friend die right before their eyes,I don’t think that is ever going to reduce.

    And I never thought about this,but yes the economic downurn is bound to have a negative effect on their mental health.I just pray and hope we are able to provide better conditions for our veterans and that their functioning and mental health only head northwards.

  • Amanda

    July 31st, 2012 at 4:09 AM

    Charles I am not sure where you are coming from on this one. I think htat we need to try to understand why our soldiers are coming back with so many issues and to address them in a systematic way. I don’t think we can simply push off to the unknown the fact that we are seeing such an uptick in issues.

    Working through the issues is going to be key to helping both our men and women.

  • Molly

    August 5th, 2012 at 3:56 PM

    This is kind of hard to process because this is a pretty popular war. Not that we all want it to drag out for years like others have in the past, but at least these military soldiers are coming home to the support of the country and for many employers bending over backwards to help them have more of a seamless reentry into society. Maybe they need mor support when it comes to mental health, them and their families, to help ease that transition. But I think that we have found that society as a whole has been very accepting of them and willing to do a great deal to allow them to go back to life as normal as quickly and easily as possible.

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