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What is Operational Stress?

Operational stress is a concept rather than a medical term. The term was devised by the Canadian Forces to describe the range of negative health effects caused by military service. It is the same as the term combat stress, and it encompasses a range of health problems.

Veterans Affairs Canada defines an OSI as “any persistent psychological difficulty resulting from operational duties performed while serving in the Canadian military. It is used to describe a broad range of problems which include diagnosed medical conditions such as anxiety disorders, depression and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as other conditions that may be less severe, but still interfere with daily functioning.”

Many experiences can cause operational stress. Although active combat is certainly one of them, there are many other events that are part of the risk of serving in the military that can cause such stress. Taking part in search-and-rescue operations, being involved in a training accident, handling injured bodies, witnessing civilian atrocities, or being involved in civilian disaster aid can all cause moderate to severe stress reactions in soldiers. When these experiences interfere with a person’s life, the result is an operational stress injury (OSI).

Examples of OSIs are depression, anxiety, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or substance abuse. OSIs can also affecting others in the person’s life, leading to marital and family problems. Finally, OSIs can produce physical symptoms such as stomach upset, headaches, or sleep problems, and they can also make chronic pain problems worse. To learn more about OSIs or Combat Stress, see the Links page for more detailed websites.

An OSI can be a serious health problem in the same sense as a severed limb or a shrapnel wound. If you are concerned that you may have been affected by operational stress at any time in your life, you should contact one of the following services in order to be referred to the clinic:

  • Veterans of the Canadian Forces or retired RCMP should speak to their Area Counsellor at VAC, or call the Contact Centre, at 1-866-522-2122 (English) or 1-866-522-2022 (French).
  • Current regular members of the Canadian Forces should approach their physician or social worker on base to discuss the concern.
  • Members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police should speak to their Health Services Officer. The Winnipeg OSI Clinic serves both D and V Divisions (Manitoba and Nunavut).

Download Veterans Affairs Canada’s official pamphlet on OSIs.

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