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Health Services Research & Development

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2006 HSR&D National Meeting Abstract

1037 — Inequity of Not Assessing Veterans’ Attitudes Informed by Military Service: Detainee-Abuse Example

Author List:
Holmes WC (Philadelphia VA Medical Center)
Gariti KO (Philadelphia VA Medical Center)
Sadeghi L (University of Pennsylvania)
Joisa S (University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing)

We assessed veterans’ perceptions about detainee abuse to see if this information might inform research that could be completed in active duty military.

PVAMC veterans were administered one of three randomly-distributed questionnaires, each of which had the same three scenarios of a U.S. soldier abusing a detainee: exposure (Scenario#1, or Sc1); humiliation/fear (Sc2); and rape (Sc3). Questionnaire versions differed only in the final line of each version’s scenarios, which described acts as soldier-initiated, superior-ordered, or wrong by a “whistleblower.” Participants were asked to rate acceptability of detainee treatment, and were asked about personal characteristics and histories, and depression and PTSD symptoms.

80% of 351 participants reported service during the Vietnam War. Two-thirds served in a war zone. Zero tolerance for abuse – defined as “completely unacceptable” regardless of detainee identity – significantly increased (p<0.0001) with severity: 16% (Sc1); 31% (Sc2); and 48% (Sc3). Zero tolerance was significantly higher (p=0.04) for soldier-initiated abuse than for superior-ordered or whistleblower-reported abuse (in Sc3 only). Across scenarios, logistic regressions indicated that the most consistently significant odds were of depressed veterans, veterans with co morbid depression/PTSD, and men being approximately 2, 3, and 4-20 times more tolerant of abuse than those without depression/PTSD (p<0.02) and women (p<0.002).

This veteran sample, which included many who had had war zone experience, reported low levels of zero tolerance for detainee abuse, even that which involved rape. Some variables – among them sex and psychiatric symptoms – were identified as being associated with greater tolerance for abuse. Given reportedly high rates of depression and PTSD in war zone soldiers, our findings signal a potentially productive area of future research in active-duty military. For example, if these findings were confirmed in active-duty military samples, future research might study the effects of screening military guards – particularly men – for depression and PTSD before duty assignment and intermittently thereafter.

Not studying veterans’ attitudes that may have been informed by military service potentially overlooks information that could shape research efforts in and policy for current active duty military. This oversight is a form of inequity that undervalues the contemporary relevance of veterans’ unique past experiences.

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