"More than half of some 770,000 soldiers are pessimistic about their future in the military and nearly as many are unhappy in their jobs, despite a six-year, $287 million campaign to make troops more optimistic and resilient, findings obtained by USA TODAY show.
Twelve months of data through early 2015 show that 403,564 soldiers, or 52%, scored badly in the area of optimism, agreeing with statements such as "I rarely count on good things happening to me." Forty-eight percent have little satisfaction in or commitment to their jobs.
The results stem from resiliency assessments that soldiers are required to take every year. In 2014, for the first time, the Army pulled data from those assessments to help commanders gauge the psychological and physical health of their troops.
The effort produced startlingly negative results. In addition to low optimism and job satisfaction, more than half reported poor nutrition and sleep, and only 14% said they are eating right and getting enough rest.
The Army began a program of positive psychology in 2009 in the midst of two wars and as suicide and mental illness were on the rise. To measure resiliency the Army created a confidential, online questionnaire that all soldiers, including the National Guard and Reserve, must fill out once a year.
Last year, Army scientists applied formulas to gauge service-wide morale based on the assessments. The results demonstrate that positive psychology "has not had much impact in terms of overall health," says David Rudd, president of the
University of Memphiswho served on a scientific panel critical of the resiliency program.
The Army's effort to use positive psychology to make soldiers more resilient has been controversial since its inception in 2009. A blue-ribbon panel of scientists from the
Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences, concluded last year that there is little or no evidence the program prevents mental illness. It argued there was no effort to test its efficacy before the Army embraced it . The panel cited research arguing that, in fact, the program could be harmful if it leaves soldiers with a false sense of resiliency.
The Army disputed the findings, pushing ahead with its positive psychology program that now costs more than $50 million a year. At least 2.45 million soldiers have taken a self-assessment test that is a crucial part of the resiliency program, and 28,000 GIs have been instructed on how to teach other soldiers the curriculum.
-- Forty-eight percent or about 370,000 soldiers showed a lack of commitment to their job or would have chosen another if they had it to do over again. Only 28% felt good about what they do.
-- About 300,000 soldiers or nearly 40% didn't trust their immediate supervisor or fellow soldiers in their unit or didn't feel respected or valued. Thirty-two percent felt good about about bosses and peers.
-- In one positive trend, more than 400,000 soldiers or 53% said they were satisfied or extremely satisfied with their marriage, personal relationship or family. About 240,000 expressed dissatisfaction.
-- For physical fitness, nearly 40% were in good shape, 28% were borderline, and 33% did poorly.
Retired vice admiral Norb Ryan, head of the
Military Officers Association of America, and Joyce Raezer, executive of the National Military Family Association, said the results are not surprising. Fourteen years of war and recent decisions to downsize or cut funding for the military have left morale low, they said.