Associations Between Mental and Physical Health Conditions and Occupational Impairments in the U.S. Military

Published in: Military Medicine (2021). doi: 10.1093/milmed/usab021

Posted on on February 19, 2021

by Michael Stephen Dunbar, Megan S. Schuler, Sarah O. Meadows, Charles C. Engel

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Prior studies have identified associations between specific health conditions and occupational impairments in the U.S. military, but little is known about the relative magnitude of impairments associated with different mental and physical health conditions among military service members. The goal of this study is to comparatively assess occupational impairment associated with mental and physical conditions among active duty military service members.

Materials and Methods

Data on 11,055 U.S. active duty service members were from the Department of Defense 2015 Health Related Behaviors Survey, an anonymous online health survey. Items assessed common mental and physical health conditions. Absenteeism was assessed as number of lost work days and presenteeism was assessed as number of work days with impaired functioning in the past 30 days. This research was approved by the RAND Human Subjects Protections Committee.


Back pain (23%) and anxiety (14%) were the most prevalent conditions in the sample. Mental health conditions (anxiety, depression, and PTSD) were associated with more absentee and presentee days than physical conditions. Adjusting for physical health conditions, anxiety, depression, and PTSD showed robust associations with both absenteeism and presenteeism.


Common mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD showed robust associations with absenteeism and presenteeism among active duty U.S. military service members. Efforts to rigorously evaluate and improve existing military screening programs and reduce barriers to accessing and engaging in mental healthcare may help to reduce work absenteeism and presenteeism among active duty service members.

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