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Military contractors suffer high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder

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TUESDAY, Dec. 10, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Private contractors who worked in Afghanistan, Iraq and other conflict zones over the past two years have high rates of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a new study finds.

Researchers conducted an anonymous online survey of 660 contractors who had been deployed to a conflict zone at least once between early 2011 and early 2013, and found that 25 percent met the criteria for PTSD and 18 percent for depression. Half reported alcohol misuse.

Despite these problems, few contractors received help before or after deployment, according to the study by the RAND Corp., a nonprofit research organization. Even though most of them had health insurance, only 28 percent of those with PTSD and 34 percent of those with depression reported receiving mental health treatment in the previous 12 months.

Many contractors also reported physical health problems as a result of deployment, including traumatic brain injuries, respiratory issues, back pain and hearing problems, the study authors pointed out in a RAND news release.

Duties of private contractors include military base support and maintenance, logistical supports, transportation, intelligence, communications, construction and security services.

"Given the extensive use of contractors in conflict areas in recent years, these findings highlight a significant but often overlooked group of people struggling with the after-effects of working in a war zone," study co-author Molly Dunigan, a political scientist at RAND, said in the news release.

Among the survey respondents, 61 percent of the contractors were from the United States and 24 percent were from the United Kingdom. Other respondents were from Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and other nations.

U.S. contractors had nearly twice the rate of PTSD and depression as U.K. contractors, who tended to report better preparation, lower levels of combat exposure and better living conditions than U.S. contractors. Contractors from other countries had even better experiences in these categories than those from the United Kingdom.

More resources are needed to help contractors at all stages of their deployment, the researchers suggested.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about PTSD.

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