What pre-deployment and early post-deployment factors predict health function after combat deployment?: a prospective longitudinal study of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) soldiers

Abstract

BACKGROUND Physical and mental function are strong indicators of disability and mortality. OEF/OIF Veterans returning from deployment have been found to have poorer function than soldiers who have not deployed; however the reasons for this are unknown. METHODS A prospective cohort of 790 soldiers was assessed both pre- and immediately after deployment to determine predictors of physical and mental function after war. RESULTS On average, OEF/OIF Veterans showed significant declines in both physical (t=6.65, p<.0001) and mental function (t=7.11, p<.0001). After controlling for pre-deployment function, poorer physical function after deployment was associated with older age, more physical symptoms, blunted systolic blood pressure reactivity and being injured. After controlling for pre-deployment function, poorer mental function after deployment was associated with younger age, lower social desirability, lower social support, greater physical symptoms and greater PTSD symptoms. CONCLUSIONS Combat deployment was associated with an immediate decline in both mental and physical function. The relationship of combat deployment to function is complex and influenced by demographic, psychosocial, physiological and experiential factors. Social support and physical symptoms emerged as potentially modifiable factors.

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