Health Behaviors Among Service Members Injured on Deployment: A Study From the Wounded Warrior Recovery Project

Mil Med. 2021 Jan 30;186(1-2):67-74. doi: 10.1093/milmed/usaa242.


Introduction: Service members (SMs) who are injured on deployment are at risk for myriad long-term health problems that may be ancillary to their physical injury, including high rates of depression and posttraumatic stress disorder, and poor health behaviors (e.g., problem drinking, cigarette and tobacco use, poor sleep quality, and sedentary lifestyle). As the specific health behaviors injured SMs engage in have been largely ignored, the primary aim of this study was to compare health behavior patterns among those with and without mental health problems in a large, representative sample of SMs injured on combat deployment.

Materials and methods: Participants (N = 3,303) completed behavioral health assessments between September 2018 and April 2019 as part of the Wounded Warrior Recovery Project. Multivariate linear regressions and binary logistic regressions were used to evaluate differences between mental health screening status and health behavior outcomes, adjusting for injury severity, age, and years since injury.

Results: Overall, about half of participants screened positive for posttraumatic stress disorder and/or depression (49%). Participants reported high rates of alcohol use and problems, cigarette and tobacco use, inadequate sleep and poor sleep quality, and low levels of physical activity. With the exception of number of drinking days and likelihood of current tobacco use, participants who screened positive for a mental health disorder evidenced significantly worse health behavior outcomes.

Conclusions: The results provide a preliminary glance into the mental health and health behaviors of SMs roughly a decade after injury, and underscore the importance of examining the interplay between mental, physical, and behavioral health outcomes among wounded warriors to promote health and wellness.