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Most previous attempts to determine the psychological cost of military deployment have been limited by reliance on convenience samples, lack of pre-deployment data or confidentiality and cross-sectional designs.
This study addressed these limitations using a population-based, prospective cohort of US military personnel deployed in support of the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The sample consisted of US military service members in all branches including active duty, reserve and national guard who deployed once (n = 3393) or multiple times (n = 4394). Self-reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress were obtained prior to deployment and at two follow-ups spaced 3 years apart. Data were examined for longitudinal trajectories using latent growth mixture modelling.
Each analysis revealed remarkably similar post-traumatic stress trajectories across time. The most common pattern was low–stable post-traumatic stress or resilience (83.1% single deployers, 84.9% multiple deployers), moderate–improving (8.0%, 8.5%), then worsening–chronic posttraumatic stress (6.7%, 4.5%), high–stable (2.2% single deployers only) and high–improving (2.2% multiple deployers only). Covariates associated with each trajectory were identified.
The final models exhibited similar types of trajectories for single and multiple deployers; most notably, the stable trajectory of low post-traumatic stress pre- to post-deployment, or resilience, was exceptionally high. Several factors predicting trajectories were identified, which we hope will assist in future research aimed at decreasing the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder among deployers.
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