PTSD rates similar among defense contractors and veterans, report says

December 10, 2013

Federal contractors who worked in war zones reported post-traumatic stress disorder and depression at rates similar to military personnel in a recent survey by the RAND Corporation.

A U.S. Marine watches as a construction crew works on a a new base at Camp Letherneck in Afghanistan. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images).
A U.S. Marine watches as a construction crew works on a a new base at Camp Letherneck in Afghanistan. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images).

Twenty-five percent of private contractors in the study met the criteria for PTSD, while 18 percent screened positive for depression. About half reported alcohol abuse.

By comparison, the rates among service members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are as high as 20 percent for PTSD, 37 percent for depression, and 39 percent for alcohol abuse, according to a 2013 analysis from the Institute of Medicine.

The RAND survey covers a segment of the population rarely examined by experts. Only two studies have looked at the issue of health and well-being for contractors who worked in war zones, the study said.

The report also highlights a need for post-service assistance for the contractor workforce, which lacks the type of support network provided to veterans.

“The military has programs before, during and after deployment to help service members address deployment-related mental health problems,” said RAND health-policy researcher Carrie Farmer, who co-authored the study.  “The majority of contractors we surveyed reported that they did not have access to similar resources.”

Despite those findings, the report also noted that 84 percent of the private-sector workers responding to the survey were former military personnel, meaning they may qualify for certain benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

RAND, a nonprofit research group, said it conducted an anonymous online survey of 660 people who served in conflict zones for private-sector employers between early 2011 and early 2013.

Defense Department contractors outnumbered U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan during the height of the conflicts in those two countries, the report said.

Nearly 156,000 private-sector employees worked in Iraq alongside 152,000 service members in 2008, while about 94,000 contractors were deployed in Afghanistan with roughly 92,000 troops in 2010, according to the study.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks@washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics for more federal news. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestion.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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Josh Hicks | December 10, 2013