Updated Literature Review Examines Research and Findings on Women Veterans’ Health
Women are one of the fastest growing groups of new VA healthcare users, with particularly high rates of utilization among OEF/OIF Veterans. Women’s military experiences and responses to these experiences are often distinct from those of men, and these differences can affect both their health status and healthcare needs. Research literature dedicated to women Veterans and women’s military health and healthcare has significantly grown since the first systematic review of research on women Veterans that covered research published from 1978 through 2004. Investigators in the current study conducted a systematic review of the scientific literature published from 2004-2008 and summarized major findings, as well as advancements and gaps in comparison to literature from the original synthesis (more research was published in this 5-year review than in the 25-year period of the previous review). The 195 articles included in this updated synthesis were categorized into five areas: psychiatric conditions (n=85), quality of care (n=54), healthcare access and utilization (n=48), deployment and post-deployment health issues (n=33), and organizational research (n=7).
- High rates of PTSD symptoms (10% to 19%) and other mental health disorders (e.g., depression) were found among returning OEF/OIF military women. Also, as the number of OIF deployments increase, screening positive for mental health problems appears to increase.
- Military sexual trauma (MST) combined with combat exposure was associated with doubled rates of new onset PTSD in both women and men, and MST was associated with more readjustment difficulties in civilian life. In addition, the literature suggests the need for repeated PTSD/mental health screening in returning OEF/OIF Veterans.
- Local organizational culture and quality of leadership support for women’s health were key factors in fostering gender-sensitive VA programs for women Veterans.
- Within VA healthcare, women Veteran’s satisfaction is positively affected by access to women’s clinics, gynecological services, and overall continuity of care. Women Veterans who do not use VA healthcare lack understanding of VA care and services.
- Among VA users, women and men had similar outpatient satisfaction ratings; however, women had consistently lower ratings for inpatient care (e.g., physical comfort, courtesy).
- While successes are evident in the breadth and depth of publications, remaining gaps in the literature include: post-deployment readjustment for women Veterans and their families, and quality of care interventions/outcomes for physical and mental conditions affecting women Veterans.
- Salient articles may have been missed, and this review may be limited by publication bias.
Dr. Bean-Mayberry was supported by an HSR&D Career Development Transition Award, and Dr. Yano was supported by an HSR&D Research Career Scientist Award. Drs. Bean-Mayberry, Yano and Washington are part of HSR&D’s Center for the Study of Healthcare Provider Behavior, Sepulveda, CA.
Bean-Mayberry B, Yano E, Washington D, et al. Systematic Review of Women Veterans’ Health: Update on Successes and Gaps. Women’s Health Issues July 2011;21(4, Supplement):S84-97.