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MHAT III - Multiple deployments increase stress

Multiple deployments increase stress, study says

By Michelle Tan
Staff writer (Army Times)

Soldiers who have deployed to Iraq more than once reported higher levels of acute stress symptoms than soldiers serving their first tours, according to an Army report released Tuesday.

Those with multiple deployments also suffered slightly higher levels of anxiety or depression than their first-tour counterparts, but the findings also showed that it is now easier for soldiers to get help in theater and the stigma of seeking counseling is decreasing.

The report, which also looked at suicide rates and soldiers’ access to mental health providers, was put together by the Mental Health Advisory Team III. The team was established at the request of Multi-National Force-Iraq, and the data was collected in October and November 2005 in theater.

This is the third such team to assess soldiers’ behavioral health in Iraq. Similar assessments were made in the fall of 2003 and 2004.

The study “reflects a snapshot of the morale and mental health of deployed soldiers last fall in Iraq,” said Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, surgeon general of the Army and commander of Medical Command at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

It also was the first time the team was able to compare data from soldiers with multiple deployments with those on their first tour, and collect data from soldiers tasked with training Iraqi security forces. A total of 1,461 soldiers, 172 behavioral health providers, 172 primary care providers and 94 unit ministry team members participated in the assessment.

The Army’s efforts to educate soldiers and health care providers, train soldiers to adapt to the stress of combat, and provide resources to troops on the ground are “unprecedented,” Kiley said.

“Our goal is to ensure that every deployed and returning soldier receives all the help they need,” he said. Other key findings are:

• Almost 19 percent of soldiers who had at least one prior tour in Iraq reported acute stress symptoms, including hyper arousal, avoidance and intrusive thoughts, compared with 12.5 percent of soldiers on their first tour. :

• Fourteen percent of those surveyed said they suffered from acute stress symptoms compared to 11 percent in the 2004 study; 17 percent reported a combination of depression, anxiety and acute stress, compared to 13 percent the year before. :

• Only 4 percent of surveyed soldiers serving under Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq, who are tasked with training Iraqi security forces, reported acute stress, depression or anxiety. The low number is attributed to the fact that most of these soldiers are older and more experienced, with an average of 17 years of service. :

• The latest soldiers surveyed were significantly more likely to report knowing someone who had been seriously injured or killed and having an improvised explosive device or other ordnance explode near them. :

• Forty-five percent of the soldiers, compared to 39 percent in the 2004 assessment, said they were in life-threatening situations where they were unsure how to respond based on the rules of engagement. :

• Length of deployment and separation from family were the top two non-combat stressors for active-duty and reserve soldiers. Those with multiple deployments reported “significantly” higher concerns about deployment length. :

• The suicide rate in 2005 in the Iraq theater was 19.9 per 100,000 soldiers, a slight increase from the 2003 rate of 18.8 per 100,000 soldiers. However, the 2005 rate is much higher than the 2004 rate of 10.5 for every 100,000 soldiers. :

Fifty-five percent of soldiers surveyed said they are confident in their ability to identify soldiers at risk for suicide. A majority of the deaths involved junior enlisted soldiers who were white, unmarried males under the age of 30. :

The Army is establishing a suicide prevention team at Fort Sam Houston to further analyze data related to suicides and suicide attempts, while soldiers receive suicide prevention training before and during their deployments, Kiley said. :

“We have not made a connection between the stress on the force with a significant increase in suicides, [but] that isn’t to say there aren’t any,” he said. “I don’t have any evidence that there is a correlation between [post-traumatic stress disorder] and suicides.” :

Findings from this report don’t include troops who might have PTSD because the soldiers were surveyed while they were still in theater, and PTSD develops only after an individual leaves the combat zone. :

“Are we concerned that soldiers on their second or third deployments are at increased risk for PTSD? We sure are,” Kiley said. “Are we encouraged because the stigma is dropping and soldiers are seeking more help? Yes, it’s encouraging.” :