Understanding Military PTSD Risk

PTSD risk after combat increased with life and family stress

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Military deployment can bring risks of many types for service members. Coming home with PTSD is sometimes one of those risks, but it might not have to be.

A recent study found that both combat exposure and post-deployment concerns about friends and family were associated with PTSD in service members.

The researchers concluded that risk of PTSD increased significantly when high exposure to combat was combined with increased worry about family back home.

"Seek help if you show signs of PTSD."

This research team was led by M. Tracie Shea, PhD, from the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Providence, RI.

This study included 238 National Guard and Reserve members who had recently returned from Afghanistan or Iraq. Their average age was 33 and 41 percent were married. Most service members participated in the research between four and six months after returning from deployment.

An interview technique called CAPS was used to determine how often a person had PTSD symptoms, how intense symptoms were and whether those symptoms affected their daily functioning. Lifetime trauma that occurred before deployment was measured by the Pre-Deployment Life Events and Training and Deployment Preparation Scales of the Deployment Risk and Resiliency Inventory (DRRI). This survey also was used by the service members to report concerns they had after deployment about family safety, security and well-being and stresses from finances and other life issues.

The Negative Temperament Scale (NT) was used to measure bad emotional experiences, such as irritation, worry and moodiness. High scores on the NT indicated negative emotions. Service members were asked to report combat experiences during deployment. They rated amount of exposure to certain events, such as “being attacked” on a scale of 0-4, where 4 meant the event occurred 10 or more times.

The CAPS survey results showed that 12.6 percent of the participants had PTSD within six months of returning from deployment.

Traumatic life events that occurred before deployment increased the odds of study participants getting PTSD by 1.92 times.

Study participants who had high negative emotions had 2.95-fold increased odds of getting PTSD.

Service members with life and family concerns had 2.77 times higher odds of getting PTSD, and combat exposure raised the odds of PTSD by 1.88- to 2.0-fold.

When the researchers looked at the effect of life and family concerns on PTSD in those with different levels of combat exposure, they found that 26.6 percent of participants who had high life and family concerns and high combat exposure had PTSD. Only 2.4 percent of those with low life and family concerns and high combat exposure had PTSD.

These researchers concluded that life and family concerns during deployment and high exposure to combat were predictors of PTSD.

According to the authors of this study, “Accessible interventions that address life and family stress while deployed as well as the amount of social support and life stress following return from war-zone deployments may be critical to reducing the risk of PTSD in military personnel.”

These authors noted some limitations of their study, including that only 8 percent of the study participants were women and only 12 percent were minorities. Since this research was done on service members returning from deployment, these results may not apply to active duty members. Additionally, this study did not consider risk factors for the timing of when PTSD might occur or how long it might last.

This study was published in Psychiatry Research.

Funding for this research came from a grant given by the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command. The researchers did not disclose any conflicts.

Review Date: 
December 17, 2013
Last Updated:
December 30, 2013