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OEF/OIF Servicewomen Deployed to Combat Regions: The Impact of Sexual Assault in Military on Post-Deployment Readjustment and Social Support

Sadler AG, Mengeling M, Torner J, Cook BL, Booth BM. OEF/OIF Servicewomen Deployed to Combat Regions: The Impact of Sexual Assault in Military on Post-Deployment Readjustment and Social Support. Paper presented at: VA HSR&D / QUERI National Meeting; 2015 Jul 9; Philadelphia, PA.


Objectives: Social support is a key determinant of post-traumatic resiliency. Our study examined the post-deployment readjustment and social support of OEF/OIF servicewomen deployed to Iraq/Afghanistan (I/A) and/or other combat locations, and determined the association of sexual assault in military (SAIM) with this readjustment/social support. Methods: This cross-sectional retrospective study used a computer-assisted telephone interview to assess deployment experiences, socio-demographics, post-deployment readjustment and current social support. A community sample of a Mid-western cohort of 862 OEF/OIF active component (AC) 50% and Reserve/National Guard (RNG) 50% servicewomen returning from deployment within the preceding 36 months participated. Results: Most participants (80%) were deployed to I/A. One-fifth (20%) experienced SAIM during their service. A third (32%) acknowledged they had post-deployment problems that they couldn't discuss with family or friends. However, most (96%) reported that there were people they could talk with about their deployment if they chose to. While 5% indicated they experienced major financial problems post-deployment, such as bankruptcy, most (92%) had friends or relatives who would lend them money if needed. Most (95%) agreed that if they are ill, family or friends will help until they are well. After deployment, 18% reported divorce, leaving or being left by a significant other. Post-deployment readjustment and support were substantially different for servicewomen experiencing SAIM relative to non-assaulted peers. Women with SAIM were more likely to indicate they had post-deployment problems they couldn't discuss (27% vs. 16%, p < .0001), that they didn't have people they could talk with about problems (41% vs 19%, P < .0001), to have experienced post-deployment financial problems (42% vs 18%, P < .0001) but not be as likely to have someone to help them financially (29% vs 19%, P = .002); and to report a divorce or loss of a significant relationship (31% vs. 17%, p < .0001). Implications: While post-deployment readjustment issues were acknowledged, most participants reported positive readjustment and social support. Conversely, servicewomen with SAIM acknowledged significantly poorer readjustment and support across all domains. Impacts: OEF/OIF servicewomen with SAIM at any time in their military career report poorer social support and post-deployment readjustment. Interventions to address the social isolation, readjustment and resiliency of this vulnerable population are needed.

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