For a significant number of veterans, alcohol misuse is one legacy of their military service. In 2006, 1.8 million veterans of any age met the criteria for having a substance abuse disorder. And in 2010, the VA saw 362,737 veterans who had been diagnosed for an alcohol abuse problem.
But a new study from the RAND Corporation sheds light on alcohol issues among another population of people who serve in conflict zones: civilian contractors.
Over the past decade, the U.S. has increasingly relied on private contractors to perform tasks in war areas, including transportation, intelligence gathering, construction, and security. In fact, the study notes that in 2010, there were more Department of Defense contractors than military personnel in both Iraq and Afghanistan: more than 250,000 total. These individuals are often subject to the same stressors as members of the military, such as “gunfire, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and other modes of attack; serious injury; [and] the deaths of fellow personnel.”
But unlike their counterparts, the impact of these stressors on contractors’ physical and mental health has not been extensively studied. To fill in that gap, the RAND researchers surveyed 660 American and international contractors who worked in a conflict zone between 2011 and 2013. Among their findings:
- Overall, 25% of those surveyed met criteria for PTSD. The rates were even higher for U.S. contractors: 32% met criteria for PTSD and 23%met criteria for depression. PTSD and depression are risk factors for alcohol abuse.
- Nearly half of respondents reported alcohol misuse.
- Only 28% of contractors with PTSD symptoms and 34% with depression symptoms had sought help in the past year. Researchers speculated that these low rates may be due to fears of being stigmatized.
Ultimately, the researchers noted that persons “with recent deployments on contract to a theater of combat operations have rates of mental health problems that are comparable to or higher” than their military counterparts. However, these civilians don’t have access to the same services on the home front, like the VA or, in the case of the justice system, Veterans Treatment Courts.
The study concludes that more research and attention on this issue is needed to ensure civilian contractors receive the support they need, especially in relation to mental health services, including alcohol abuse treatment. Download a copy of “Out of the Shadows: The Health and Wellbeing of Private Contractors Working in Conflict Environments.”
Given the military’s increasing reliance on private companies, should military contractors who work in conflict zones receive the same mental health, addiction, and criminal justice services as veterans?