Study shows U.S. military members have higher rates of childhood trauma

A new study shows that military members and veterans have a higher incident of childhood trauma than civilians. According to the Huffington Post, researchers say that might explain the concept that some enlistment occurs in an effort to escape troubled childhoods.

This was the largest study ever conducted to examine how common bad childhood experiences are among military men and women. Differences were most striking among men during the volunteer era. More than 25 percent had experienced at least four childhood traumas, versus about 13 percent of civilian men.

“These results suggest that, since the beginning of the all-volunteer U.S. military in 1973, there has been a meaningful shift in childhood experiences among men who have served in the military,” said lead author John Blosnich, a researcher at the Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System. He said research is needed “to explore whether the differences in adverse childhood experiences are associated with health outcomes among men and women with military service history.”

Unwanted sexual contact, household drug use, exposure to domestic violence and incarceration of family members were some of the events included in the study. Also incidents of parents’ divorce was surveyed.

These events, as well as other disturbing childhood experiences, can increase risks for depression, anxiety, drug use and suicide later on. The Huffington Post reported that the study’s results may offer explanation on why military members have a higher rate of incidents in these areas. However, the report does not have information on the adults’ current mental state.

David Rudd, Scientific Director of the nonprofit National Center for Veterans Studies, said, “The study suggests there may be a need to improve screening and placement of service members. Current screening involves questions about mental illness, not childhood trauma.” Rudd, a psychologist and president of the University of Memphis, stated that those with a history of childhood sexual abuse may be particularly vulnerable to post-traumatic stress if placed in combat.

Major James Brindle, a Defense Department spokesman, said the department is reviewing the study “but it is too early to speculate on any possible future changes to department policies.” That agency wasn’t involved in the research, which was funded partly by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Huffington Post also reported that the authors note that most people with bad childhoods can lead healthy lives, and that most people who enlist in the military “do so for positive reasons, including patriotism, altruism and self-improvement.”

The authors analyzed 2010 behavioral health surveys sponsored by the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention and conducted by state health departments. The telephone surveys included a core set of questions and optional ones that the states could add. The study involved adults in 10 states and Washington, D.C.

For the most part, differences among women with and without military service were less notable than among men and with less variation between eras.

“We suspect one reason for this is that women were not subjected to the draft, so the life histories of women who chose to serve in the military may have remained relatively constant,” Blosnich said.


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