Studies examine stress and health among U.S. troops in Iraq
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—University of Michigan studies are underway to assess how deployment is affecting the mental, emotional and physical health of U.S. women and men serving in Iraq.
For the studies, researchers Penny Pierce and Amiram Vinokur are interviewing randomly selected, representative samples of 2,200 Air Force women and men stationed in Iraq and other sites around the world. The goal of the studies is to determine the impact of various deployment experiences and family stressors on physical and mental health and on the likelihood that participants will remain in military service.
Funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, through the TriService Nursing Research Program, the studies will provide the most comprehensive look to date at stress among military women, and at how the impact of wartime deployment may differ among women and men.
Pierce, who is a colonel in the Air Force Reserve Program, is an associate professor in the U-M School of Nursing and a faculty associate at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR). Vinokur is a research professor at ISR.
The researchers, who hope to release preliminary findings from the studies in about a year, will compare the results to a similar study they conducted from 1992 to 1998 of women veterans of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
In that earlier study, they found that women who served in the theater of war were actually more likely to stay in the military than those who served elsewhere.
"The situation today could be very different," Pierce said. "The Gulf War was a short, relatively popular war, compared to the conflict today. Also, in Iraq, more and more women are serving in dangerous jobs closer to combat than ever before, and we don't know how the unique characteristics of this war will affect both men and women's willingness to remain in military service."
Other studies have shown that women serving in Kosovo initially experienced more stress than their male counterparts, Pierce said. But over time, the women had better psychological health than the males.
"The hypothesis was that it took women a while to establish social networks which were instrumental in bolstering their ability cope with the stresses of war," Pierce said. "But once they did, they functioned very well."
Pierce and Vinokur will also look at how family stress, including separation from spouses and children, is related to psychological health among women and men in service. In their earlier study, they found that while children whose mothers served in the war had stressful reactions initially, two years later they were fine. The current study includes follow-up interviews a year later to see how participants are faring over time, and how family stress factors are affected when the military member returns home.
The researchers also hope to expand the study to include servicemen and women from other military branches.
"Ultimately, we hope to determine if there are preventable risks associated with specific military duties, type of deployment, occupational and family stress, or some combination of these factors," Pierce said. "The results of this research will inform manpower planners, policymakers and family readiness programs to shape strategies and resources that will support service members and their families."
Contact: Diane Swanbrow