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Optimism may protect soldiers against chronic pain, study says
(Reuters Health) - Soldiers who displayed high optimism before deployment were less likely to develop chronic pain after being sent to Afghanistan or Iraq than those who were more pessimistic, a new study finds.
U.S. Army soldiers who were the most pessimistic were 35 percent more likely to report new back pain, joint pain or frequent headaches after returning from deployment compared with those who were the most optimistic, the study team reports in JAMA Network Open.
"We found that optimism was protective for soldiers even when they were exposed to combat or having personal injury during deployment combat," said the study's lead author Afton Hassett, an associate research scientist in the department of anesthesiology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
"The most surprising thing was that even after we took into consideration demographic factors such as education, marital status and whether the soldier was an officer or an enlisted man, the effects of optimism were still powerful."
While optimism may seem like an innate trait, it can be modified with the right therapies, Hassett said.
"We don't want to blame people for not being optimistic enough," she added. "But maybe we need to think about identifying soldiers who have low levels of optimism and perhaps help them with some pre-deployment programs."
People who view the world negatively can be taught to have a more optimistic view through cognitive behavioral therapy, Hassett said. "Often pessimism is born of negative false beliefs," she explained. "If you can counter those beliefs - which are often related to how someone was raised - people can be motivated to think a little differently."
Hassett and colleagues analyzed data from 20,734 U.S. Army soldiers who reported pain in at least one new area of the body after deployment. All had filled out questionnaires prior to deployment that assessed levels of optimism through responses on a five-point scale indicating how strongly a soldier agreed with four statements: "In uncertain times, I usually expect the best," "I rarely count on good things happening to me," "Overall, I expect more good things to happen to me than bad" and "If something can go wrong for me, it will."
Soldiers who were already suffering from some sort of chronic pain before they were deployed were excluded from the analysis.
The researchers were also able to include information on the level of combat intensity experienced by the soldiers, along with five potentially traumatic events during deployment: encountering dead bodies or seeing people killed or wounded, feeling in great danger of being killed, engaging in direct combat that involved discharging a weapon, experiencing a blast or explosion and experiencing a vehicular crash.
After deployment, 25 percent of the soldiers reported new back pain, 24 percent reported new joint pain and 12 percent reported new frequent headaches.
While the new study looked only at the development of chronic pain in the military, "this is not isolated to soldiers," Hassett said. "There are many experimental studies suggesting a very strong link between optimism and pain."
Dr. John Hache can see the broader implications of the new findings.
"It's a pretty interesting study," said Hache, a clinical assistant professor with the Pain Medicine Program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pennsylvania. "One of the things we're trying to sort out is how we can manage the huge chronic pain epidemic especially in the setting of the opioid epidemic. What's really interesting is, they have identified something new that may be modifiable. Most of the other risk factors identified in the paper are things you can't change, such as being in a stressful combat position."
The study suggests it might be possible to protect against chronic pain conditions, said Hache, who was not involved in the new research. "Addressing certain psychological aspects before someone is exposed to military service might prevent them from developing pain in the first place."
Once again, the United States and the Taliban are apparently close to striking a peace deal. Such a peace agreement has been rumored to be in the works longer than the latest "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" sequel. (The difference is Keanu Reeves has fewer f**ks to give than U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.)
Both sides appeared to be close to reaching an agreement in September until the Taliban took credit for an attack that killed Army Sgt. 1st Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz, of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. That prompted President Donald Trump to angrily cancel a planned summit with the Taliban that had been scheduled to take place at Camp David, Maryland, on Sept. 8.
Now Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen has told a Pakistani newspaper that he is "optimistic" that the Taliban could reach an agreement with U.S. negotiators by the end of January.
75 years ago, Audie Murphy earned his Medal of Honor with nothing but a burning tank destroyer's .50 cal and insane bravery
Editor's note: a version of this post first appeared in 2018
On January 26, 1945, the most decorated U.S. service member of World War II earned his legacy in a fiery fashion.
Florida senators are pushing for Purple Hearts for service members wounded in the NAS Pensacola shooting
Florida's two senators are pushing the Defense Department to award Purple Hearts to the U.S. service members wounded in the December shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola.
The Navy Department is in the middle of a new force-structure review, which could change the number and types of ships the sea services say they'll need to fight future conflicts. But instead of trying to project what they will need three decades out, which has been the case in past assessments, acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said the services will take a shorter view.
"I don't know what the threat's going to be 30 years from now, but if we're building a force structure for 30 years from now, I would suggest we're probably not building the right one," he said Friday at a National Defense Industrial Association event.
The Navy completed its last force-structure assessment in 2016. That 30-year plan called for a 355-ship fleet.
When Oscar Jesus Temores showed up to work at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story each day, his colleagues in base security knew they were in for a treat.
Temores was a master-at-arms who loved his job and cracking corny jokes.
"He just he just had that personality that you can go up to him and talk to him about anything. It was goofy and weird, and he always had jokes," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Derek Lopez, a fellow base patrolman. "Sometimes he'd make you cry from laughter and other times you'd just want to cringe because of how dumb his joke was. But that's what made him more approachable and easy to be around."
That ability to make others laugh and put people at ease is just one of the ways Temores is remembered by his colleagues. It has been seven weeks since the 23-year-old married father of one was killed when a civilian intruder crashed his pickup truck into Temores' vehicle at Fort Story.