NIH Extends Study of Military Members’ Health Outcomes

Published January 14, 2019

University at Buffalo researchers have received a $2.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue their study of health outcomes among members of the military.

Examining Understudied Experiences

Gregory G. Homish, PhD, associate professor and associate chair of community health and health behavior in UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions, received the award through the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Combined with a previous $2.3 million NIH grant for the ongoing study, Homish has now received $5 million as principal investigator for the project.

“This renewal will allow us to examine two highly prevalent, yet understudied, experiences: soldiers who have never deployed and those who are separating from the military,” Homish says. “We will examine, over time, how these two factors impact changes in health for soldiers and their spouses.”

Looking at Negative Affects of Nondeployment

Collaborators on the NIH grant from the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences include Kenneth E. Leonard, PhD, professor of psychiatry and director of UB’s Clinical and Research Institute on Addictions, and Bonnie M. Vest, PhD, research assistant professor of family medicine.

Substance abuse is one of the most common health problems among military personnel and tends to be even higher among reservists compared to active duty, researchers say.  

While research on the military has focused largely on the effects of deployment and combat, a significant proportion of reserve soldiers are never deployed.

Separation From Service Can Also Be Stressful

Deployment is an important part of what’s known as “soldier identity.” As a result, nondeployment may contribute to feelings of guilt and decreased connectedness with one's unit, which, in turn, can increase risk for negative outcomes.

Homish’s recent research on this topic includes a study published in October showing that U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers who experience greater feelings of guilt and other negative emotions about never having been deployed are more likely to misuse alcohol.

Separation from the military can also be stressful for service members and their spouses and may contribute to increased substance use.

Homish and his colleagues have found evidence that former service members — compared to current service members — have higher rates of substance use and dependence.

Aim to Improve Health Outcomes for Military

“We are excited to be funded for an additional five years to investigate how social and environmental factors impact the health of soldiers and their spouses over time,” Homish says.

“The information obtained from this study can be used to better inform prevention and intervention programs aimed at improving health outcomes for our military service members and their families.”