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Study Shows Women as Resilient to Combat-Related Stress as Men in the First Year Following Return from OEF/OIF Deployment


BACKGROUND:
As a consequence of women’s changing role in the war zone, as well as the evolving nature of modern warfare, female service members have experienced unprecedented levels of combat exposure in Afghanistan and Iraq. While women are still barred from direct ground combat positions, they serve in a variety of positions that put them at risk for combat exposure. This study examined gender differences in various dimensions of combat-related stress and associated consequences for post-deployment mental health in a nationally representative sample of male and female OEF/OIF Veterans, who had returned from deployment between 10/07 and 7/08. Investigators identified OEF/OIF Veterans from a larger study and analyzed 592 completed self-report surveys (340 women and 252 men). Survey measures assessed included: demographics, combat experience (e.g., being fired upon, witnessing injury or death), aftermath of battle (e.g., observing or handling human remains, dealing with detainees), perceived threat, difficult living and working environment, prior stress exposure, deployment sexual harassment (e.g., from other service members, commanding officers, or civilians in the war zone), mental health (e.g., post-traumatic stress symptomatology, depression), and substance abuse.

FINDINGS:

  • Study results suggest that women OEF/OIF service members may be as resilient to combat-related stress as men in the first year following deployment.
  • There were no significant interactions between combat-related stressors and gender in the prediction of post-traumatic stress symptomatology, mental health functioning, or depression.
  • Women reported slightly less exposure than men to most combat-related stressors, but higher exposure to other stressors (i.e., prior life stress, deployment sexual harassment).
  • There were no differences between men and women in reports of perceived threat in the war zone.

LIMITATIONS:

  • Post-deployment mental health was assessed with self-report measures.
  • The conclusions drawn from this study are limited to one year following return from deployment – and were restricted to a sample of OEF/OIF Veterans who had returned between 2007 and 2008.

AUTHOR/FUNDING INFORMATION:
This study was partly funded through HSR&D (IAC 06-259). Dr. Vogt and Ms. Vaughn are part of VA’s National Center for PTSD, Boston, MA; all remaining authors are part of HSR&D’s Center for Health Quality, Outcomes and Economic Research, Bedford, MA.


PubMed Logo Vogt D, Vaughn R, Glickman M, Schultz M, Drainoni M, Elwy R, Eisen S. Gender Differences in Combat-Related Stressors and their Association with Post-Deployment Mental Health in a Nationally Representative Sample of U.S. OEF/OIF Veterans. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 2011 May 30;e-pub ahead of print.

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What are HSR&D Publication Briefs?

HSR&D requires notification by HSR&D-funded investigators about all articles accepted for publication. These journal articles are reviewed by HSR&D and publication briefs or summaries are written for a select number of articles that are then forwarded to VHA Central Office leadership to keep them informed about important findings or information. Articles to be summarized are selected by HSR&D based on timeliness of the findings, interest of leadership, or potential impact on the organization. Publication briefs are written for only a small number of HSR&D published articles. Visit the HSR&D citations database for a complete listing of HSR&D articles and presentations.