Occupational Therapists Share Deployment Experiences from Iraq and Afghanistan

  • William Heath Sharp
  • Matthew G. St. LaurentEmail author
  • Michelle J. Nordstrom
  • Brian T. Gregg
  • Krustin Yu


Providing occupational therapy (OT) in a deployed environment can be demanding, but the opportunity to provide rehabilitative care for fellow Service Members in a combat theater, although momentous, far outweighs any challenge. Throughout 15 years of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, deployed military occupational therapists (OTs) conducted rehab missions in austere environments, performed therapy in fast-paced nontraditional clinical settings, and adjusted to and overcome provider burnout. This chapter highlights firsthand experiences from OTs who deployed with Army behavioral health (BH) units. Deployed OTs primarily worked in secure locations performing routine rehab missions according to doctrine and training. A few shared their experiences that did not proceed as planned. Risk and challenges exist for everyone over the duration of a deployment, which requires perseverance, prudence, and courage.


Occupational therapy Military and occupational therapy Mental health in military Deployment Challenges in war Therapy dog in military 



Without the contributions and sacrifices of Active Duty and Army Reserve OTs who courageously served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, this chapter would not have been written. More specifically, tremendous gratitude goes out to those who provided detailed accounts of their deployment experiences with COSC units the past 15 years. We would like to specifically thank LTC Enrique Smith-Forbes, LTC Arthur Yeager, CPT Francisco Rivera, MAJ Daniel Bash, MAJ Tammy Phipps, and CPT Jo Ann Zahn for their contributions. These accounts were essential to the formation of this chapter, and we hope that these stories generously passed along will help to formulate a perspective of the life of an OT before, during, and after a deployment.

Disclosure: The views expressed in this chapter are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, US Army Medical Command, US Army, Department of Defense, or the US Government.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • William Heath Sharp
    • 1
  • Matthew G. St. Laurent
    • 2
    Email author
  • Michelle J. Nordstrom
    • 3
  • Brian T. Gregg
    • 4
  • Krustin Yu
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for Rehabilitation Sciences Research, Department of Rehabilitation MedicineUniformed Services University, Henry M. Jackson Foundation, and Walter Reed National Military Medical CenterBethesdaUSA
  2. 2.Occupational Therapy, Department of Rehabilitation, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center; Department of Rehabilitation MedicineUniformed Services University of the Health SciencesBethesdaUSA
  3. 3.Outpatient Occupational Therapy Behavior Health, Department of Rehabilitation, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center; and Department of Rehabilitation MedicineUniformed Services University of the Health SciencesBethesdaUSA
  4. 4.Rehabilitation Sciences Doctoral StudentUniversity of KentuckyLexingtonUSA

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