Effectiveness of Mental Health Screening and Coordination of In-Theater Care Prior to Deployment to Iraq: A Cohort Study

Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States
American Journal of Psychiatry (Impact Factor: 12.3). 04/2011; 168(4):378-85. DOI: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2010.10091303
Source: PubMed


The authors assessed the effectiveness of a systematic method of predeployment mental health screening to determine whether screening decreased negative outcomes during deployment in Iraq's combat setting.
Primary care providers performed directed mental health screenings during standard predeployment medical screening. If indicated, on-site mental health providers assessed occupational functioning with unit leaders and coordinated in-theater care for those cleared for deployment. Mental health-related clinical encounters and evacuations during the first 6 months of deployment in 2007 were compared for 10,678 soldiers from three screened combat brigades and 10,353 soldiers from three comparable unscreened combat brigades.
Of 10,678 soldiers screened, 819 (7.7%, 95% confidence interval [CI]=7.2-8.2) received further mental health evaluation; of these, 74 (9.0%, 95% CI=7.1-11.0) were not cleared to deploy and 96 (11.7%, 95% CI=9.5-13.9) were deployed with additional requirements. After 6 months, soldiers in screened brigades had significantly lower rates of clinical contacts than did those in unscreened brigades for suicidal ideation (0.4%, 95% CI=0.3-0.5, compared with 0.9%, 95% CI=0.7-1.1), for combat stress (15.7%, 95% CI=15.0-16.4, compared with 22.0%, 95% CI=21.2-22.8), and for psychiatric disorders (2.9%, 95% CI=2.6-3.2, compared with 13.2%, 95% CI=12.5-13.8), as well as lower rates of occupational impairment (0.6%, 95% CI=0.4-0.7, compared with 1.8%, 95% CI=1.5-2.1) and air evacuation for behavioral health reasons (0.1%, 95% CI=0.1-0.2, compared with 0.3%, 95% CI=0.2-0.4).
Predeployment mental health screening was associated with significant reductions in occupationally impairing mental health problems, medical evacuations from Iraq for mental health reasons, and suicidal ideation. This predeployment screening process provides a feasible system for screening soldiers and coordinating mental health support during deployment.

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    • "These findings underscore the importance of considering ACEs in pre-deployment and post-deployment intervention strategies for soldiers. Recent empirical work suggests that pre-deployment screening for mental health problems may reduce the risk of postdeployment mental health problems (Warner et al. 2011). However, this screening program did not include assessment of ACEs. "
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