Adjusting to Life Post-Deployment
The U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command's Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, located in Silver Spring, Md., is one of the largest and most diverse biomedical research laboratories within the entire Department of Defense. For more than 60 years, WRAIR scientists have sought to understand, prevent, and treat the myriad of threats to Soldier health and performance. WRAIR also has overseas laboratories, including the U.S. Army Medical Research Unit-Europe, established in Germany in 1977.
Together with the WRAIR's Military Psychiatry Branch in Silver Spring, USAMRU-E has led the Army's research efforts to benchmark the impact of development on Soldier mental health and to develop and assess resilience training for Soldiers. WRAIR research has shown that 20-40% of Soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan experience psychological health problems serious enough to impair social or work functioning that often result in referral for professional care. The post-deployment period is also associated with increased levels of anger and unnecessary risk-taking, with a relatively high number of Soldiers reporting their own use of threats to physically harm another person, fight another person, or drive recklessly.
These studies have served as the basis of a new focus on a significant problem identified by the WRAIR team: an increase in anger and unnecessary risk-taking associated with deployment. The new research effort, managed by Dr. Amy Adler, chief of Science at USAMRU-E, is focused on assessing and reducing anger and risk-taking behavior among combat veterans.
"Soldiers returning from combat are increasingly engaging in risk-taking behaviors, such as fast driving and excessive drinking," said Col. Carl Castro, director of the Military Operational Medicine Research Program. "This research is critically important to identify ways to help Soldiers avoid engaging in these types of behaviors."
This new effort adapts internationally-recognized research on anxiety bias in cognitive processing to the question of anger bias, with the goal of developing novel strategies to assess and reduce anger and unnecessary risk-taking in Soldiers. Researchers will first examine whether Soldiers with a cognitive bias toward anger are at higher risk of post-deployment adjustment problems. Then, WRAIR researchers will begin examining the degree to which cognitive training can counter this anger bias.
"The use of techniques that assess cognitive bias, coupled with the idea that training programs can be designed to specifically alter cognitive biases, represents a novel and exciting approach to reducing anger and risk," said Col. Paul Bliese, director, Center of Military Psychiatry and Neuroscience at WRAIR.
This new effort will also include studies that test WRAIR-developed peer support resilience training and behavioral health-related leadership training. WRAIR has a history of success in developing effective resilience training that is then integrated into Army-wide programs such as Comprehensive Soldier Fitness. As an integrated research effort, the WRAIR program is designed to reduce the negative impact of deployment on anger and risk-taking across a range of operational units, including combat and non-combat deployments. Indeed, the research program is also focused on identifying problems associated with combat veterans adjusting to non-combat deployments.
The ultimate goal is to promote the adjustment and safety of Soldiers across the military community.
"At the end of the day," Bliese continued, "Soldiers may not understand that they have biases in how they perceive every-day events which make them more prone to act aggressively and take unnecessary risks. However, if we can understand the nature of the biases, we can design effective training programs."
This new effort begins FY2013.