Warzone Stressor Exposure, Unit Support, and Emotional Distress Among U.S. Air Force Pararescuemen

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    Armstrong EL, Bryan CJ, Stephenson JA, Bryan AO, Morrow CE 14(2). 26 - 34 (Journal Article)

    Objectives: Combat exposure is associated with increased mental health symptom severity among military personnel, whereas unit support is associated with decreased severity. However, to date no studies have examined these relationships among U.S. Air Force pararescuemen (PJs), who have a unique and specialized career field that serves in both medical and combatant capacities. Design: Crosssectional self-report survey. Methods: Self-reported survey data regarding depression symptoms, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, perceived unit support, and exposure to traditional combat experiences (e.g., firefights) and medical consequences of combat (e.g., injuries and human remains) were collected from 194 PJs in seven rescue squadrons. Results: Levels of combat exposure were compared with previously published findings from combat units, and levels of medical exposure were compared with previously published findings among military medical professionals. Medical exposure intensity showed a stronger relationship with PTSD severity (ß = .365, p = .018) than with combat exposure intensity (ß = .136, ρ = .373), but neither combat nor medical exposure was associated with depression severity (ßs < .296, ρs >.164). Unit support was associated with less severe PTSD (ß = -.402, ρ < .001) and depression (ß = -.259, ρ = .062) symptoms and did not moderate the effects of combat or medical exposure. Conclusions: Medical stressors contribute more to PTSD among PJs than do traditional combat stressors. Unit support is associated with reduced PTSD and depression severity regardless of intensity of warzone exposure among PJs.

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