Relationships among predeployment risk factors, warzone-threat appraisal, and postdeployment PTSD symptoms

Molly R Franz, Erika J Wolf, Helen Z MacDonald, Brian P Marx, Susan P Proctor, Jennifer J Vasterling
Journal of Traumatic Stress 2013, 26 (4): 498-506
Previous research indicates a relationship between perceived fear for one's safety (i.e., threat appraisal) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This prospective study examined relationships among deployment- and predeployment-related variables, threat appraisal, and postdeployment PTSD symptom severity. Prior to Iraq deployment, 774 U.S. Army soldiers completed self-report measures assessing previous life stressors, deployment history, current (predeployment) PTSD symptoms, deployment preparedness, and unit cohesion. Following deployment, participants completed self-report measures assessing combat intensity, deployment threat appraisal, and current (postdeployment) PTSD symptoms. Structural equation modeling revealed that predeployment PTSD symptom severity, prior warzone deployment, unit cohesion, and preparedness were each independently associated with deployment threat appraisal, even after taking into account combat intensity. Deployment threat appraisal was associated with postdeployment PTSD severity. Results indicated that predeployment PTSD symptom severity, history of warzone deployment, and preparedness-risk factors previously thought to influence PTSD outcomes directly-were either partially or fully mediated by threat appraisal. The model explained 15% of the variance in deployment threat appraisal and 50% of the variance in postdeployment PTSD severity. Helping service members cope with exposure to extreme stress during deployment by modifying certain prewar risk factors may facilitate reduction of PTSD symptoms following deployment.

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