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

Jul 7, 2014

Credit 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.