OSCAR Combat Stress Program Ineffective: Military Connection

military connection: marines oscar

By Debbie Gregory.

A Rand study found that the Marine Corps’ stress control and readiness program — while popular with commanders — has no positive impact on Marines’ mental health. However, Marine officials say they plan to continue using an improved version of the program into the post-Afghanistan era.

More than 1,300 Marines who deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq between March 2010 and December 2011 took part in the study. The study compares the outcomes for Marines who received training from the Marines’ Corps-wide Operational Stress Control and Readiness Program — or OSCAR — against a control group of Marines who did not receive the training.

During the week-long class, Marines and sailors trained to receive their team-member and team-trainer certification. Team members work one-on-one with Marines and sailors to help them with stress. If they’re unable to resolve the issue, the service members are instructed to escort their stressed comrades to seek help from the chaplain or a medical facility.

Questions asked were:

  1. How did OSCAR affect Marines’ attitudes toward stress response and recovery?
  2. How did OSCAR affect Marines’ mental health?
  3. Did Marines perceive any stigma around seeking help for mental health?
  4. What were Marines’ general mental health and alcohol use like pre- and postdeployment and with and without OSCAR training?
  5. What were Marine leaders’ perceptions of whether OSCAR training improved attitudes toward stress response and recovery, unit cohesion and morale, and the stigma of mental health and health seeking?
  6. How did leaders perceive their abilities to prevent, identify, and manage combat stress problems in the unit?

While the study did find Marines in OSCAR-trained battalions to be more likely to report seeking help from fellow Marine unit members and corpsmen to deal with personal stress, they were not more likely to seek help from outside medical providers. Moreover, the study found, the prevalence of stress-related conditions or mental health outcomes — such as major depression, post-traumatic stress, and alcohol and substance use — were unaffected by OSCAR participation.

The report makes four primary recommendations:

  1. That the Corps review its stress control programs to reduce duplication of efforts and training that one Marine described as “overkill.”
  2. That officials identify changes to the design and implementation of training to increase its effectiveness, including pushing training down to the squad leader level.
  3. That the service conduct pilot test changes to the existing OSCAR program in efforts to impact Marines’ behavior and reactions in real-world scenarios.
  4. That the Corps expand the evidence base regarding operational stress management to learn what really works.

Future improvements planned for the program include bio-feedback mechanisms, which measure neurological responses to stressors and improvement to the program’s review of mental health, first aid, and tools to combat negative thinking and regulate emotions.

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Military Connection: OSCAR Combat Stress Program Ineffective: by Debbie Gregory