Study Suggests Gender Differences in Mental Health Diagnoses among OEF/OIF Veterans
Females comprise 12% of the military personnel serving in OEF/OIF, and the number of female veterans has increased twofold over the last 20 years. Although there is a growing body of literature on the rapidly increasing prevalence and incidence of mental health disorders in OEF/OIF Veterans, little is known about gender differences in this new generation of Veterans, especially among those seeking VA care. This retrospective study examined differences in socio-demographic, military service, and mental health characteristics between female and male OEF/OIF Veterans. Using VA data, investigators identified 329,049 OEF/OIF Veterans (12% female) seeking VA healthcare from 4/02 through 3/08. The majority of Veterans included in this study (68%) had only completed one OEF/OIF deployment (versus multiple deployments).
- Female OEF/OIF Veterans who were new users of VA healthcare were younger, more often African-American, and more frequently diagnosed with depression. In addition, older age was associated with a higher prevalence of PTSD and depression diagnoses among female Veterans.
- Male OEF/OIF Veterans who were new users of VA healthcare were more frequently diagnosed with PTSD and alcohol use disorder. Among male Veterans, younger age indicated greater risk for PTSD.
- Both female and male OEF/OIF Veterans with higher combat exposure were more likely to receive a diagnosis of PTSD.
Considering gender differences in OEF/OIF Veterans seeking VA care may allow for the provision of more targeted prevention and treatment services in these newly returning Veterans.
- Mental health diagnoses were abstracted from VA administrative data and were not verified with standardized diagnostic measures.
- There may be a number of important unmeasured variables (e.g., levels of combat exposure) that may account for some of the gender differences found in this study.
- Results are applicable only to female Veterans receiving VA care, and cannot be extrapolated to all female OEF/OIF Veterans.
This study was partly supported by HSR&D (RCD 06-042). Drs. Maguen and Seal are part of HSR&D’s Program to Improve Care for Veterans with Complex Comorbid Conditions, in San Francisco.
Maguen S, Ren L, Bosch J, Marmar C, and Seal K. Gender Differences in Mental Health Diagnoses among Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Enrolled in VA Healthcare. American Journal of Public Health October 21, 2010;e-pub ahead of print.