Symptoms of Psychological Distress and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in United States Air Force Drone Operators
SCHOOL OF AEROSPACE MEDICINE WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB OH AEROMEDICAL RESEARCH DEPT
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The goal of this study is to repeat a survey administered in 2010 to assess for changes in mental health among United States Air Force aircrew operating PredatorReaper remotely piloted aircraft, also commonly referred to as drones. Participants were assessed for self-reported sources of occupational stress, levels of clinical distress using the Outcome Questionnaire-45.2, and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder PTSD using the PTSD Checklist-Military Version. A total of 1,094 aircrew responded to the web-based survey composed of the commercially available standardized instruments mentioned above. The survey also contained nonstandardized items asking participants to report the main sources of their occupational stress, as well as questions addressing demographics and work-related characteristics. The estimated response rate to the survey was 49. Study results reveal the most problematic self-reported stressors are operational low manning, extra dutiesadministrative tasks, rotating shift work, and long hours. The results also reveal 10.72 of operators self-reported experiencing high levels of distress and 1.57 reported high levels of PTSD symptomology. The results are lower than findings from the 2010 survey and from soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Implications of the study and recommendations for United States Air Force line leadership and mental health providers are discussed.