Academic journal article Counseling and Values

The Influence of Spirituality and Religion on Coping for Combat-Deployed Military Personnel

Academic journal article Counseling and Values

The Influence of Spirituality and Religion on Coping for Combat-Deployed Military Personnel

Article excerpt

A paucity of research exists examining the role of spirituality/religion (S/R) as a protective factor for combat-deployed military personnel. The purpose of this study is to (a) define the underlying structure of items from an author-developed instrument measuring coping, beliefs, and support; and (b) examine how S/R affiliation, activities, and practices affect coping responses for 279 combat-deployed military personnel. Significant predictors of coping included support, age, Christian affiliation, and frequency of S/R practices. The authors found that beliefs, S/R practices prior to deployment, previous combat deployments, and first deployment were not significant predictors of coping, Implications for counselors and future research are addressed.

Keywords: military, combat deployment, spirituality, religion, coping


The effects of military combat and deployment on military personnel and their families have been the focus of the media and research since the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution was passed in 2002 and Operation Iraqi Freedom began in March 2003. Statistics on fatalities and physical injuries are staggering and continue to rise, even with decisions for troop withdrawal. As of November 7, 2013, the U.S. Department of Defense (2013) reported a total of 4,423 U.S. troop fatalities (including killed in action and nonhostile action) and 31,941 wounded in action (WIA) during Operation Iraqi Freedom and a total of 2,153 U.S. troop fatalities (including killed in action and nonhostile action) and 19,464 WIA during Operation Enduring Freedom. U.S. troop fatalities were identified as follows: 98% men; 91% noncommissioned officers; 82% active duty; 11% National Guard; 74% Caucasian, 9% African American, and 11% Latino; 54% under the age of 25; and 72% from the Army. Of the total number of wounded troops reported, 20% included serious brain or spinal injuries. This total for wounded troops excludes psychological injuries. In the U.S. Department of Defense report, 30% of all troops who were deployed to this area reported a serious mental health concern within 3 to 4 months after returning from deployment.

Spirituality/Religion and-the-Military

Sayer, Noorbaloochi, Frazier, Gravely, and Murdoch (2010) conducted a study of 754 troops returning from deployment. Participants reported the following coping issues upon reintegration after a war-zone deployment: inability confiding in others their personal thoughts and experiences, dealing with strangers, making new friends and getting along with family, keeping or finding a job, finding meaning and purpose in life, controlling anger, taking care of health issues, and doing assignments or tasks in a timely manner. Participants also stated that they had turned to or increased substance use, encountered legal problems, and lost touch with their spirituality/religion (S/R). Marchione (2012) suggested that these are unique issues encountered by the veterans of this war and stated that more than 400,000 have been treated by the Veterans Administration (VA) for a variety of mental health problems and life issues consistent with those mentioned. She reported that the VA is serving more veterans from the Reserves and National Guard (28%) who are filing disability claims based on mental health issues. In all, it appears that recent war veterans have different types of injuries than previous veterans, partly because of changes in weapon uses, body protection from weapons, and improved battlefield care. These changes allowed many returning veterans to survive wounds that, in past wars, proved fatal.

Recent research on deployed military members and their families has focused on stressors associated with combat deployment and depression, violence, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other issues related to reintegration within the family and society. Much research has focused on variables affecting PTSD and mental-health-related issues, whereas other research has focused on the stressors associated with deployment on family members (Bartone, Vaitkus, & Adler, 1998). …

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