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New U of M study digs into why some soldiers can't continue military service

University of Michigan Health System

A new University of Michigan study suggests muscle and bone injuries are the most prevalent common factor among soldiers deemed “unfit” for further military service—but other factors play nearly as a big a role.

The researchers followed an Army brigade of more than 4100 soldiers who deployed to Iraq in 2006 through their 15-month deployment, and for another four years after they returned.

They found that 9% suffered some kind of injury or trauma—exactly the same percentage later found “unfit for continued service.”

“And of these, 63% had some kind of musclo-skeletal issue that disqualified them from service,” says Dr. Andrew Schoenfeld, an orthopedic surgeon and the study’s lead author.

Schoenfeld, a Robert Wood Johnson clinical research scholar and Army veteran, says the researchers took all injuries into account—from traumatic injuries suffered by front-line soldiers, to more chronic conditions developed by other unit members such as cooks and truck drivers.

Other factors proved nearly as important as musclo-skeletal injuries when it came to predicting whether or not a soldier could continue service.

“Many also had behavioral health disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder,” Schoenfeld says. Military rank, which is used as a proxy for socioeconomic status, “was also an important predictor”—with those of lower socioeconomic status proving more likely to be found unfit.

The study was the first to track such a large group of soldiers (ages 18-52) over such a long period of time, “And not only capture the depth and breadth of the injuries that they sustained, but also document the long-term outcomes,” Schoenfeld says.

Schoenfeld says researchers hope the study will provide “valuable information” to military decision-makers and Veterans Administration officials, as well as civilian orthopedic researchers. 

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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