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Prospective risk factors for new-onset post-traumatic stress disorder in National Guard soldiers deployed to Iraq

  • M. A. Polusny (a1) (a2) (a3), C. R. Erbes (a1) (a3), M. Murdoch (a1) (a2) (a4), P. A. Arbisi (a1) (a3), P. Thuras (a1) (a3) and M. B. Rath (a5)
  • DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0033291710002047
  • Published online: 10 December 2010
Abstract
Background

National Guard troops are at increased risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); however, little is known about risk and resilience in this population.

Method

The Readiness and Resilience in National Guard Soldiers Study is a prospective, longitudinal investigation of 522 Army National Guard troops deployed to Iraq from March 2006 to July 2007. Participants completed measures of PTSD symptoms and potential risk/protective factors 1 month before deployment. Of these, 81% (n=424) completed measures of PTSD, deployment stressor exposure and post-deployment outcomes 2–3 months after returning from Iraq. New onset of probable PTSD ‘diagnosis’ was measured by the PTSD Checklist – Military (PCL-M). Independent predictors of new-onset probable PTSD were identified using hierarchical logistic regression analyses.

Results

At baseline prior to deployment, 3.7% had probable PTSD. Among soldiers without PTSD symptoms at baseline, 13.8% reported post-deployment new-onset probable PTSD. Hierarchical logistic regression adjusted for gender, age, race/ethnicity and military rank showed that reporting more stressors prior to deployment predicted new-onset probable PTSD [odds ratio (OR) 2.20] as did feeling less prepared for deployment (OR 0.58). After accounting for pre-deployment factors, new-onset probable PTSD was predicted by exposure to combat (OR 2.19) and to combat's aftermath (OR 1.62). Reporting more stressful life events after deployment (OR 1.96) was associated with increased odds of new-onset probable PTSD, while post-deployment social support (OR 0.31) was a significant protective factor in the etiology of PTSD.

Conclusions

Combat exposure may be unavoidable in military service members, but other vulnerability and protective factors also predict PTSD and could be targets for prevention strategies.

Copyright
Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: M. A. Polusny, Ph.D., Minneapolis VA Health Care System (116A9), One Veterans Drive, Minneapolis, MN 55417, USA. (Email: melissa.polusny@va.gov)
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