The study examined whether elevated rates of externalizing behaviors following deployment could be explained by internalizing symptoms (depression, anxiety, and PTSD symptoms), and health of the social environment (unit leadership, organizational support, and stigma/barriers to care).
A model of combat exposure, social environment, internalizing symptoms, and externalizing behaviors was tested in a military unit following a fifteen-month deployment to Iraq. The sample included 1,397 soldiers assessed four month post-deployment; 589 of these soldiers were assessed again nine months post-deployment.
Externalizing behaviors were highly stable over the five-month post-deployment period. Both social environment and internalizing symptoms were significantly associated with level of externalizing behaviors at four months and nine months post-deployment, but combat exposure alone significantly predicted change in externalizing behaviors over the follow-up period.
Results suggest the need to broaden the scope of interventions targeted to combat veterans and have implications for care providers and military leaders.
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