Captivity Stressors and Mental Health Consequences Among Repatriated U.S. Navy, Army, and Marine Vietnam-Era Prisoners of War

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Abstract

This study relied on archival data from repatriation examinations and debriefings of 241 U.S. Naval aviators, Army soldiers, and Marines who were held as prisoners of war during the Vietnam era. In addition to descriptive information, we examined relations between personal and military demographics (e.g., marital status, age, length of military service) and captivity stressors (e.g., duration, weight loss, torture) with mental health outcomes (posttraumatic stress symptomatology [PTSS], general distress, and interpersonal negativity). We also evaluated whether rank, specifically officer versus enlisted status, moderated associations between stressors and mental health. Bivariate analyses identified age, officer/enlisted status, length of service, and education as salient correlates of mental health. Hierarchical multiple regression analyses indicated that officer status served as a protective factor in the associations between physical torture and PTSS, psychological torture and PTSS, and psychological torture and interpersonal negativity. We discuss these results in terms of how maturity, commitment, and preparedness can be protective under conditions of severe and prolonged hardship.

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