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Home > Public Resources > Trauma Blog > 2016 - May > An Examination of Ethnoracial Minority Veterans’ Deployment Experiences and Postdeployment Mental He

An Examination of Ethnoracial Minority Veterans’ Deployment Experiences and Postdeployment Mental Health

May 19, 2016

Research has shown that Black and Hispanic Vietnam-era Veterans experienced both racial discrimination and greater exposure to combat-related trauma than White Vietnam-era Veterans did; these disparities have been associated with significantly greater rates and severity of postdeployment mental health disorders (Kulka et al., 1990; Pole, Gone, & Kulkarni, 2008).  We were interested in finding out whether these ethnoracial disparities have persisted among more recent Veteran cohorts and whether there might be gender differences in these disparities.  
 
We examined data collected from a large national survey of Veterans deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF/OIF). All participants in the study had returned from deployment and separated from the service within the past two years. We compared Black and Hispanic Veterans to White Veterans of the same gender.  Interestingly, we found that the groups were not significantly different in terms of deployment experiences such as combat exposure or harassment. We also found that the groups were similar in terms of their reported levels of anxiety and depression symptoms.  These findings are encouraging because they contrast with the documented deployment experiences of Vietnam-era Black and Hispanic Veterans, who suffered racial discrimination and disproportionate exposure to combat trauma.  This is consistent with significant improvements in military policy over the past three decades and job satisfaction data from ethnoracial minority military populations (Lundquist, 2008).
 
However, we also found several small, but potentially important, differences between White and ethnoracial minority groups. Both male and female ethnoracial minority Veterans reported higher levels of perceived threat in the war zone and higher levels of concern about family matters during deployment. In addition, ethnoracial minority female Veterans reported higher levels of postdeployment anxiety than White female Veterans.
 
The differences we observed could indicate that ethnoracial minority Veterans still experience discrimination that is more diffuse than specific stressors.  Although ethnoracial minority Veterans may not be disproportionally sent to the front lines of combat the way they were during the Vietnam War, they still report negative racial disparities in the administration of military justice, promotions, and service connection (Burk & Espinoza, 2012).  Furthermore, female Black and Hispanic Veterans may be at higher risk for postdeployment mental health problems due to the intersection of their gender and ethnoracial status (Nagel & Feitz, 2007).  We believe that our findings highlight the need for ongoing monitoring of ethnoracial minorities’ deployment experiences and postdeployment mental health.
 

Reference Article

Muralidharan, A., Austern, D., Hack, S.M., & Vogt, D.S. Deployment Experiences, Social Support, and Mental Health: Comparison of Black, White, and Hispanic American Veterans Deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Journal of traumatic stress. 2016.
 

Acknowledgment 

This research was supported by a Department of Veterans Affairs, Health Services Research and Development Service grant entitled “Validation of Modified DRRI Scales in a National Sample of OEF/OIF Veterans” (DHI 09-086), Dawne Vogt, Principal Investigator.  This research was also supported in part by the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Academic Affiliations Advanced Fellowship Program in Mental Illness Research and Treatment, and the Veterans Affairs Capitol Healthcare Network Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center (MIRECC). The contents do not represent the views of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs or the United States Government.
 

Discussion Questions

1. What interventions could be applied, either before, during, or after deployment, to better support ethnoracial minority Veterans' mental health?
 
2. What factors might contribute to (a) the higher levels of perceived threat, and (b) the higher levels of concern about family matters, experienced by ethnoracial minority Veterans during deployment?  What factors might contribute to (c) the higher levels of anxiety symptoms reported by ethnoracial minority female Veterans?
 
3. What can be done to address negative racial disparities in the military (e.g. in the administration of military justice, promotions, and service connection)?
 

Author Biographies 

DA-headshot-(1).jpg
David Austern, Psy.D.
is a psychology post-doctoral fellow at the Baltimore VA Trauma Recovery Program.  His research interests include writing-based interventions, stepped-care service delivery models, and promoting treatment engagement for anxiety and related disorder treatments.
 
Anjana Muralidharan, Ph.D. is a post-doctoral research fellow at the VA Capitol Health Care Network (VISN 5) Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center in Baltimore, MD. Her research focuses on social support and functional recovery from serious mental illness (SMI).  She is particularly interested in the promotion of functional independence in older adults with SMI.
 
Samantha Hack, Ph.D., LGSW is a licensed social worker and post-doctoral fellow at the VA Capitol Health Care Network (VISN 5) Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center in Baltimore, MD. Her research focuses on person-centered care as a means of providing identity-informed care and facilitating recovery for people with serious mental illness and the development of consumer-targeted interventions to support consumer participation in treatment planning and decision making.
 
Dawne Vogt, Ph.D. is a research psychologist in the Women’s Health Sciences Division of the National Center for PTSD at VA Boston Healthcare System. Her research focuses on stress and trauma measurement, gender differences in deployment stress and postdeployment mental health, and factors related to veterans’ engagement in VA care and mental health treatment.

References 

Burk, J. & Espinoza, E. (2012). Race relations within the US military. Annual Review of
Sociology, 38, 401-422. doi:10.1146/annurev-soc-071811-145501
 
Kulka, R. A., Schlenger, W. E., Fairbank, J. A., Hough, R. L., Jordan, B. K., Marmar, C. R., &
Weiss, D. S. (1990). Trauma and the Vietnam War Generation: Report of Findings from the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study. Philadelphia, PA: Brunner/Mazel.
 
Lundquist, J. H. (2008). Ethnic and gender satisfaction in the military: the effect of a meritocratic
institution. American Sociological Review, 73, 477–96. doi:10.1177/000312240807300306
 
Nagel, J. & Feitz, L. (2007). Deploying race, gender, class, and sexuality in the Iraq war. Race,
Gender, and Class, 14, 28-47.
 
Pole, N., Gone, J. P., & Kulkarni, M. (2008). Posttraumatic stress disorder among ethnoracial
minorities in the United States. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 15, 35–61. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2850.2008.00109.x