Combat Casualty Exposure, Religion and Emotional Disturbance among Military Personnel
Active duty military personnel can encounter a wide array of stressful events and conditions. One recent stressor that has received attention from researchers is combat casualty exposure, which refers to the frequency with which military personnel come into contact with fellow soldiers who have been wounded or killed. Combat casualty exposure may heighten awareness of one’s own future mortality, and the resulting existential terror has been linked with various negative health outcomes, including sleep disturbance. This study examines the association between combat casualty exposure and veterans’ subsequent feelings of sadness, anxiety, and other disturbing emotions. In addition, we explore the possible role of two aspects of religion –organizational religiosity, i.e., attendance at services, and religious salience—in mitigating the deleterious effects of combat casualty exposure on emotional disturbance among veterans. Two conceptual models are developed and assessed: (a) an offsetting effects model and (a) a stress-buffering model. Data from the 2011 Health Related Behaviors Survey of Active Duty Military Personnel, a project initiated by the U.S. Department of Defense, are used to test relevant hypotheses. The effective sample size is 13,238. Results from ordinary least squares (OLS) regression models confirm that combat casualty exposure is positively associated with emotional disturbance. Both religious attendance and religious salience are inversely associated with this negative outcome, thus confirming the offsetting effects model. However, there is no evidence that attendance or salience buffers the link between casualty exposure and emotional disturbance. Findings are discussed in terms of the literatures on (a) religion and mental health and (b) mental health among military personnel and veterans.