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Repaying America’s Service Members…with Rigorous Data

September 20, 2018

Of the many projects that I have worked on during my tenure at Abt Global, the Ohio National Guard Study is the achievement I am most proud of. As has been spotlighted by countless media outlets, military service can be overwhelmingly stressful, and often comes with a serious risk of developing mental health disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, general anxiety disorder, risky behavior, traumatic brain injury and alcohol and drug abuse. Many service members lose their marriages, health, social relationships, livelihoods and even their lives to these debilitating mental disorders. Given U.S. military service members sacrifice so much for their fellow Americans, it is imperative that we support them during and after their service so that they can live the healthiest and happiest lives possible.

In pursuit of this goal, the Ohio National Guard study began collecting data on Ohio National Guard members’ life experiences in 2008 in order to better understand the development of mental health disorders in the military. Now in its eighth wave (of nine), this longitudinal phone survey has the official title of “Risk and Resilience Factors for Combat-Related Post-Traumatic Psychopathology and Post-Combat Adjustment.” Abt has worked with Boston University and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center to collect diagnostic data on the mental health disorders listed above, as well as life experiences that put Ohio National Guard members at a higher risk of developing these disorders, or contribute to members’ resilience. Abt helped design the questionnaire, assemble the sample, conduct the phone interviews, maintain contact with respondents and deliver the data to Boston University for analysis.

One of the greatest challenges of this study has been to keep in contact with the participants, who are young and highly mobile. Even though the subject matter of the interview focuses on sensitive life experiences that can be highly disturbing and traumatic, and even though the interviews can last 45 minutes to over an hour, many Guard members have continued with the study year after year. I’ve been inspired by this dedication to the science; it speaks to the discipline and courage of the study’s population. Many Guard members have seen their fellow Guard members struggle with mental health issues—or have struggled themselves—and they know the importance of collecting data in order to find ways to treat and prevent these serious problems.

The Ohio National Guard study is a beautiful example of Abt’s mission to conduct the highest quality social science research in the service of the public good. I’m deeply proud of my work on this study, and am honored to share my experiences with it.

Read more about our work on this study:

Tackling Mental Health via Ohio’s National Guard

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