Completion of a veteran-focused civic service program improves health and psychosocial outcomes in iraq and Afghanistan veterans with a history of traumatic brain injury

Karen A. Lawrence, Monica M. Matthieu, Emma Robertson-Blackmore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations

Abstract

Introduction: Volunteering as a health promotion intervention is positively related to improved health and well-being in civilians and older adults. Yet, the impacts of participating in a community-based volunteering program on returning military veterans have not been studied, nor have the outcomes for veterans who have experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Materials and Methods: This observational, pre–post survey examines health, psychological, and social outcomes from a cohort of post-9/11/01 veterans with (N = 67) and without a reported TBI history (N = 273) who completed a 6-month, 20-hour per week veteran-focused civic service program. This study was approved by the Saint Louis University Institutional Review Board. Results: Veterans with a TBI history who completed the 6-month civic service program conducted by a veteran-focused national nonprofit organization showed significant pre–post improvement (p < 0.05) in overall health, decreased post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, increased perceived self-efficacy, decreased feelings of isolation and loneliness, and increased perceived availability of social support. These significant findings were not due to participants seeking external help for emotional problems. Out of four aspects of PTSD symptomatology assessed, “feelingnumb or detached from others, activities, or surroundings” most accounted for the decrease in PTSD scores. Given this and taken together with the significant decrease in social isolation and loneliness and the social nature of the program, we posit that decreased social isolation and loneliness is the primary driver of the improved psychological and social outcomes documented here. Finally, pre–post change scores did not differ significantly between veterans with and without a TBI, indicating that TBI history did not hinder the ability to benefit from this program. Conclusion: Completion of this civic service program positively impacted veterans with TBI, especially on psychological and social outcomes important to recovery and life satisfaction after TBI. Civic service may provide an innovative approach to promoting wellness in returning veterans with a TBI. Results of this study provide preliminary evidence that civic service decreases social isolation and loneliness in veterans with a reported TBI history. Given our findings, volunteering may prevent against social isolation and be promotional of perceived social support in veterans with TBI.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e1763-e1770
JournalMilitary Medicine
Volume182
Issue number7
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to acknowledge Aaron Scheinberg, Oliver Gould, and Olivia Obicheta at The Mission Continues for helping with data collection, cleaning, editing, and encouragement. Lawrence?s work was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health, grant number: NRSA MHI9960 (to Enola Proctor).

Publisher Copyright:
© Association of Military Surgeons of the U.S. All rights reserved.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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