The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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February 9, 2010

Community education program outlines stress on soldiers, families

With the president’s recent decision to increase the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, America’s military will continue to bear the burden of combat operations for the near future. Members of the National Guard and Reserve play an integral role in the operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and other far-off locations. Recent Department of Defense data indicate that more than 140,000 Reserve and Guard service members are currently serving on active duty across the globe in support of contingency operations.

Reserve Component mobilizations create additional burdens on the service members and their families not faced by their active duty counterparts. In addition to abruptly leaving civilian employment, Guard and Reserve families often lack the military support networks such as child care and commissaries that can often ease the challenges of extended deployment.

The stress of serving in a combat zone, such as the constant threat of an uncertain enemy, roadside bombs and indirect mortar fire, only compounds the stress of leaving one’s family for 12-15 months for a deployment.

The Combat Stress Intervention Program (CSIP) is a three-year research project in conjunction with Washington & Jefferson College and funded through the Department of Defense’s Military Operational Medicine Research Program (MOMRP) to investigate combat stress-related issues within the Guard and Reserve community in rural southwest Pennsylvania. To date, CSIP has surveyed more than 750 previously deployed members of the Guard and Reserve from western Pennsylvania. Of those troops, 43 percent acknowledged experience stress, emotional, alcohol, drug or family problems to various degrees, but only 11.6 percent of that group indicated they were currently interested in receiving help.

Among the reasons troops refuse to seek help are embarrassment, fear of harming their careers and apprehension of requiring medication for treatment, to name a few.

More than half (53 percent) experienced a traumatic event defined as an actual threat of death or serious injury to someone else during their most recent deployment. A significant percentage indicated one or more of the following behavioral health issues: Post-traumatic stress disorder (15.8 percent), moderate to severe depression (18 percent), major depression (6.4 percent), moderate to severe depression and PTSD (11.2 percent), suicidal thoughts (10.6 percent), and problems with alcohol (13.8 percent). Reserve Component troops who report problems or symptoms of PTSD also report increased perceptions of stigma, increased barriers to care and endorsed handling psychological problems oneself, and perceived less control over getting treatment.

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