Health Services Research & Development

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2007 HSR&D National Meeting Abstract

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National Meeting 2007

3070 — Impact of Previous Combat Exposure on Psychiatric Symptoms among Male and Female National Guard Troops Prior to Deploying to Iraq

Polusny MA (Minneapolis VA Medical Center) , Erbes CR (Minneapolis VA Medical Center), Arbisi PA (Minneapolis VA Medical Center), Thuras P (Minneapolis VA Medical Center), Murdoch M (Minneapolis VA Medical Center), Kehle S (Minneapolis VA Medical Center), Seifert A (Minneapolis VA Medical Center), Duffy C (Minneapolis VA Medical Center), Rath MB (Minneosta National Guard), Courage C (Minnesota National Guard)

The impact of multiple combat deployments on OEF/OIF soldiers’ resilience and risk of developing trauma related psychiatric distress is unclear. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether psychiatric symptom severity and rates of probable PTSD and depression are significantly elevated among National Guard soldiers preparing to deploy to Iraq who were previously deployed to OEF/OIF compared to soldiers from the same cohort without prior combat deployment experience. We will also examine the impact of deployment preparation stressors on soldiers’ self-reports of psychiatric distress by comparing rates of distress in the deploying soldiers to non-activated soldiers.

One month before a large National Guard combat brigade deployed to Iraq, we surveyed a representative sample of 533 soldiers using validated survey instruments including subscales of the Deployment Risk and Resiliency Inventory, PTSD Checklist (PCL), and Beck Depression Inventory-II (BDI-II). We collected the same measures from a comparison sample of 409 National Guard soldiers who were not activated for deployment.

In the pre-deployment sample, 10% of soldiers previously deployed to OIF/OEF reported probable depression (BDI-II => 20) compared to 5% of soldiers not previously deployed to OIF or OEF. Ten percent of soldiers with prior OIF/OEF experience reported probable PTSD (PCL => 50) compared to a rate of 4% in those soldiers who had not been previously deployed to OIF or OEF. Soldiers with prior OIF/OEF exposure reported more severe PTSD symptoms (p < .007) and depressive symptoms (p < .01) than soldiers not previously deployed to OIF/OEF. We will examine and report differences in rates of PTSD and depression between the pre-deployment sample and the comparison group of those soldiers not activated to examine the impact of deployment preparation stress on psychiatric distress.

Rates of probable depression and PTSD in prior deployed OIF/OEF soldiers are nearly twice that of soldiers who have not served a prior deployment to OIF/OEF. These rates are consistent with those reported in other large scale studies. Although prior OIF/OEF deployment was associated with more severe psychiatric symptoms at the time of deployment to Iraq, few soldiers reported clinically significant levels of psychiatric distress.

Soldiers completing multiple combat deployments may need greater mental health assistance during and following active duty. Ongoing research will evaluate the effect of redeployment in these soldiers over time. This data, and planned follow up studies, may help VA health services administration plan for future mental health needs of OIF/OEF veterans.