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The University of Alabama

UA Student, Veteran Seeks Participants for Combat Stress Study

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Mike LaRocca, a doctoral student in the clinical psychology program at The University of Alabama, is seeking military veterans to participate in a survey-based study about how positive psychology may predict psychological distress among combat veterans.

LaRocca, himself a military veteran, seeks to measure the effects of transformational leadership, which can include a squad or unit leader who actively encourages new ideas or mentors soldiers, and how it may serve as a predictor for symptoms of depression or PTSD.

While other combat stress studies have focused on leadership, few have looked at transformational leadership, which is more commonly associated with the psychology of business, LaRocca said.

“I want to merge that with clinical psychology and veteran issues,” LaRocca said.

LaRocca, a graduate of the United States Military Academy, Purple Heart recipient, and Tillman Military Scholar, served as an executive officer of a cavalry troop during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

After his unit commander was killed by an improvised explosive device, or IED, attack, LaRocca increased his efforts to listen to any of the unit’s troops who needed to talk, not just about losing their commander, but about the everyday stress of combat and separation from family.

“In that experience, I witnessed how the roots of psychological distress, how something like the roots of PTSD can be planted,” LaRocca said.

LaRocca is seeking combat veterans of any age, branch of the military, and war. Participants must have previously been deployed to a combat zone and cannot currently be active duty.

The survey will last between 30 minutes to an hour; time and location are flexible, LaRocca said. Upon completion, participants will receive a gift card and information about resources available to veterans and what prior research has shown about “meaning-making,” vital to avoiding stress during the post-combat period.

“The impact I would like is to possibly benefit the military by taking more of a look at transformational leadership,” LaRocca said. “The military could do well to recognize the factors of leadership that predict long-term help, not just tactical, but discussion, mentoring, encouraging leadership.

“But, also, on the clinical side afterward, being mindful of how well the veteran is making meaning of his or her experiences now. Clinicians do a great job now with treatments such as cognitive processing therapy, but if it can be shown that greater meaning-making can lead to less stress, maybe that can be woven into treatment.”

To participate in the research study, contact LaRocca at 310/498-7267 or

UA’s psychology department is part of the College of Arts and Sciences, the University’s largest division and the largest liberal arts college in the state. Students from the College have won numerous national awards including Rhodes Scholarships and Goldwater Scholarships.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.