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Redeployment survey shows most Airmen return healthy

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (May 23, 2006) -- The Air Force has reassessed about 12,500 Airmen since December after they returned from deployment and found most of those Airmen to be healthy.

At the close of 2005, the Air Force began asking Airmen who returned from deployment to places like Afghanistan and Iraq to complete a post-deployment health reassessment survey or PDHRA. The assessment, mandated by the Department of Defense, is the second health survey military members must take after completing an overseas deployment. The first is taken at the end of a deployment. The PDHRA is taken anywhere between 90 to 180 days after returning home.

The PDHRA survey is online and takes about 15 minutes to complete. The survey asks questions about an Airman's mental and physical well-being after his or her deployment, and is designed to determine if the Airman needs additional medical care from the Air Force, said Lt. Col. Jim Favret, the clinical consultant to the Air Force surgeon general for the biomedical sciences corps.

"The primary reason for the PDHRA is that we want an opportunity to address health concerns that may emerge after a deployment," Colonel Favret said. "So we want to give people an opportunity to let us know if they have health problems related to their deployment. "

The colonel also said the survey serves a readiness purpose. Being fit, both physically and mentally, is part of an Airman's commitment to the Air Force.

"This is also a readiness issue," he said. "We are constantly monitoring the health of Airmen because part of our job as Airmen is being fit enough to deploy. This is just another sequence in how we do that."

According to Colonel Favret, fewer than half of those completing the PDHRA have claimed any kind of medical complications, and most of those are minor.

"Right now, about 40 percent of the folks filling it out express some health-care concern," he said. "They are contacted and followed up on, and it kind of goes from there. A provider meets with them or talks to them and does further assessment to see what they can do for them."

The colonel said many of those who need further assistance claim some sort of minor physical problem, such as a runny nose, fever, headaches or muscle aches. About 20 percent of all deployment returnees report psychological concerns.

"Most of those, fortunately, are mild," he said. "And we are getting very few people expressing post-traumatic stress disorder concerns. Most are mild depressive symptoms or loss of interest in activities, kind of in the normal range."

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychiatric disorder that occurs after exposure to highly traumatic experiences, such as combat, personal assault or natural disasters. Symptoms range from severe nightmares and flashbacks, to insomnia and increasing social isolation. Colonel Favret said less than half a percent of Airmen have reported symptoms that point to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Right now, Colonel Favret says he sees no changes coming for the questions on the PDHRA. But he did say Air Force officials will attempt to adjust the way they interpret the answers on the survey to avoid having unnecessary impact on the lives of Airmen.

"We are trying to get the sensitivity of the survey right," he said. "We want to make sure we are catching as many folks as possible, but on the other hand, we don't want to burden people by making them come in for appointments if they don't need to be seen."

Airmen who have returned recently from deployment should fill out the PDHRA between 90 to 180 days of returning home. But the Air Force would like all Airmen who have been deployed since Sept. 11, 2001, to complete a PDHRA.

"The way we have been doing it is to have the unit deployment manager contact people to fill it out," he said. "But folks shouldn't wait to be contacted. Anybody that has been deployed can go online to fill it out."

The Web site for the PDHRA is at www.afchips.brooks.af.mil/pdhra. Users should ensure their Web browser security settings are correct before taking the survey. Using Internet Explorer, go to "tools," then "internet options," then "advanced." Under the "security" header, ensure "Use TLS 1.0" is checked.

Personnel reliability program personnel must make a medical appointment to take the PDHRA in person.