The Department of Defense has been working closely with multiple government and non-government agencies to conduct studies and analysis to better understand and address this issue and recent incidences involving Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) within the military community. PTSD has been linked to increase suicides and other harmful behaviors in some service members and veterans. One member generally not included in studies and with limited access to resources is overseas contractors.

A recently released RAND study focused specifically on PTSD and civilian contractors who had deployed at least once between early 2011 and early 2013; and their experiences with PTSD and depression following deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. The studies finding are significant, and have a direct impact on those considering an overseas contracting job. A quarter of study participants met criteria for a PTSD diagnosis, and fifty percent reported alcohol abuse. Instances of alcohol abuse are particularly significant for those population, both because they may fly under the radar, and because alcohol abuse can cost an individual his or her security clearance.

The study, “Out of the Shadows: The Health and Well-Being of Private Contractors Working in Conflict Environments,” was conducted within the RAND National Security Research Division, which addresses topics related to defense, foreign policy, homeland security and intelligence communities. The research is funded by donors and the Department of Defense.

According to the study, within the past decade, “the number of private military and security contractors employed by the U.S. Department of Defense outnumbered U.S. troops in both theaters. There were 155,826 contractors alongside 152,275 U.S. troops in Iraq in 2008, and 94,413 contractors alongside 91,600 U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2010.”

For the study, the participating contractors were provided an online survey containing questions about their demographics, combat exposure, living conditions, mental health, physical health, alcohol use, and other areas in order to find which factors were more likely to link them to incidents of PTSD.

Key findings from the report included the following information: (from the report)

  • Contractors’ deployment experiences differed with their circumstances
  • Depression and PTSD rates were greatly affected by level of job specialty preparation, combat exposure, and living conditions
  • 25% of the contractors surveyed met criteria for a PTSD diagnosis
  • 18% screened positive for depression
  • 50% reported alcohol misuse
  • Longer deployments and increased combat exposure increased PTSD and depression
  • Increased preparedness was associated with lower rates of PTSD and depression

The study strongly indicates that many individuals are in need of some form of mental health treatment following deployment, especially for those whose deployments lasted longer than 12 months.The information is significant, because access to mental health counseling, post-deployment screenings and other resources may begin being offered by overseas defense contractors. For individuals considering an overseas deployment, an awareness of PTSD, what it is, and resources available should become a part of the process of determining whether an overseas job is right for you.




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Diana M. Rodriguez is a native Washingtonian who works as a professional freelance writer, commentator, and blogger; as well as a public affairs, website content and social media manager for the Department of Defense.