8 August 2013

A University of Queensland-led research collaboration has investigated the health of more than 14,000 Australian Defence Force (ADF) members who deployed to the Middle East over the past decade.

The Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO) Health Study, undertaken by the Centre for Military and Veterans’ Health, confirmed that the majority of MEAO veterans who were still serving in the ADF were physically and mentally fit before and after deployment.

MEAO Health Study Chief Investigator, Professor Annette Dobson, said ex-ADF personnel who deployed to the Middle East were at higher risk of mental health problems than those who remained in-service.

“High levels of posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms were reported by approximately 16 per cent of ex-serving personnel, compared with just 2.7 per cent of those still serving,” Professor Dobson said.

“However, as ill-health is a common reason for discharge from the military, it was not surprising to find that ex-serving personnel were not doing as well.

“While it was found that overall levels of psychological distress among MEAO veterans was not high, those in direct combat roles, Army personnel, and female personnel were more likely to report symptoms.

“As in the Australian population, female veterans were also more likely to report mental health symptoms than men.

“Female veterans were less likely to feel well-supported by the military, but conversely, reported their military commitments had less impact on their children than their male counterparts.

“The Prospective Study showed that veterans did experience psychological changes and to a lesser extent, changes to physical and social health, after deployment compared with before deployment.

“This was particularly true for those in combat roles, or those operating outside the main support base.

“Exposure to dust, smoke and fumes was common and was associated with reduced lung function and increased respiratory symptoms.

“Long term follow-up of MEAO veterans will be important to monitor their physical and mental health outcomes, especially as they discharge from the ADF and return to civilian life.”

The outcomes of the MEAO Health Study will help the Department of Defence and Department of Veterans’ Affairs to tailor services and programs which will support Middle East veterans and help to prevent ill health in ADF personnel involved in future deployments.

The MEAO Health Study had three components including the Mortality and Cancer Incidence Study (due to be released later this year), the Census Study, undertaken by The University of Queensland and the Prospective Study, undertaken by the University of Adelaide.

A report of the Prospective and Census studies was released today by the Department of Defence and is available for download from http://www.defence.gov.au/health/home/i-MilHOP_Message.htm. The Mortality and Cancer Incidence study is yet to be released.

Contact: Kate Gadenne, Senior Communications Officer, Centre for Military and Veterans’ Health, ph: +61 7 3346 4953, Mobile: 0438 727 895, Email: k.gadenne@uq.edu.au