FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE.

DANVILLE, Pa. -- A new Geisinger Health System study, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, has found that recently deployed National Guard and Reserve veterans returning from the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) – military campaigns that started after the September 11 attacks on the United States – are not suffering higher rates of mental health disorders than Vietnam and Gulf War veterans. In fact, veterans from the previous conflicts were more likely to report "fair" or "poor" health status and a service-connected disability than the GWOT vets.

 
 Joseph Boscarino
“We hypothesized that the recent guard and reservists would have more mental health issues than those from earlier conflicts, but that didn’t seem to be the case,” said Joseph Boscarino, Ph.D., MPH, a professor in Geisinger’s Department of Epidemiology & Health Services Research, who led the study. “We don’t see the large surge in mental health disorders. It’s relatively confined to a small group of veterans, however, we found that the GWOT vets were more likely to seek mental health counseling, which is probably a good thing."

Preliminary data from this three-year study of 1,800 veterans who are Geisinger patients found that 26.7 percent of the recent guard and reservist veterans had a mental health visit in the past year, with 23.5 percent reporting using psychiatric medications and 48.7 percent using the VA system during that time. Current mental health disorders included alcohol misuse (14.6 percent), depression (10.1 percent), generalized anxiety (11.4 percent), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (10.4 percent). They also experienced sleep disorders, with 42.7 percent having difficulty sleeping during the past year.

“While the recent veterans are experiencing mental health issues that are somewhat higher than the rest of the male population, they’re not extremely higher than what you’d expect. They’re pretty moderate,” said Boscarino, himself a Vietnam veteran who has studied the psychopathology of PTSD among veterans and others exposed to trauma for several decades. “The rates of PTSD also aren’t that high, nor are we seeing higher rates of suicidal issues in this population than we would have expected.”

Boscarino says that may be because the recent vets volunteered for service while those from earlier conflicts may have been drafted and deployed at younger ages.

“Many recent vets have at least some college or higher education and none of them were drafted,” he said. “They were a more highly-screened population and they had to have a minimum IQ level to enter the service, which was not the case in previous conflicts.”

Lower IQ is one of the best predictors of developing PTSD and other mental health disorders according to Boscarino. “In order to meet the manpower draft quotas during the Vietnam War, the Department of Defense lowered the minimum IQ level, which was a big mistake in my opinion,” he said.

The newer veterans also had much better support at home than those in previous conflicts.

“Many of them were married and had much more social support both at home and in the community than they had years ago,” he said. “The conflict is also different. There’s much more precision and war fighting is more specialized than in the past, so fewer are directly exposed to heavy combat situations.”

Additional Geisinger authors on the study included Stuart Hoffman, D.O.; Thomas G. Urosevich, O.D., MS, FAAO; H. Lester Kirchner, Ph.D.; Johanna C. Hyacinthe, MS; and Jared V. Pajovich, BA.

Researchers will present their results on Wednesday, Nov. 30, at the AMSUS 2016 Federal Health Meeting in National Harbor, Md. AMSUS is a federal medical society dedicated to support the health of U.S. military personnel and veterans.

About Geisinger
Geisinger Health System is an integrated health services organization widely recognized for its innovative use of the electronic health record and the development of innovative care delivery models such as ProvenHealth Navigator® and ProvenCare®. As one of the nation’s largest health service organizations, Geisinger serves more than 3 million residents throughout 45 counties in central, south-central and northeast Pennsylvania, and also in southern New Jersey with the addition of AtlantiCare, a National Malcolm Baldrige Award recipient. The physician-led system is comprised of approximately 30,000 employees, including nearly 1,600 employed physicians, 12 hospital campuses, two research centers and a 510,000-member health plan, all of which leverage an estimated $8.9 billion positive impact on the Pennsylvania economy. Geisinger has repeatedly garnered national accolades for integration, quality and service. In addition to fulfilling its patient care mission, Geisinger has a long-standing commitment to medical education, research and community service. For more information, visit www.geisinger.org or follow the latest Geisinger news and more on Twitter and Facebook.

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CONTACT: Mike Ferlazzo, 570-214-7410, 515-450-2908 (c), msferlazzo@geisinger.edu