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Study Suggests History of Military Sexual Trauma Increases Risk of Sexual Health Diagnoses among OEF/OIF Veterans


Military sexual trauma (MST) affects a significant number of Veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. Research shows that 15% of OEF/OIF female Veterans and 0.7% of male Veterans who receive VA healthcare reported a history of MST. VA provides universal screening of Veterans for sexual trauma and provides free treatment for MST-related mental or physical health conditions. Sexual assault seems to be associated with a higher risk of acquiring a sexually transmitted infection (STI). This study examined the prevalence rates of STIs and SDDs (sexual dysfunction disorders) among OEF/OIF Veterans with and without reported MST. Investigators also explored whether the presence of a co-existing mental health diagnosis (e.g., PTSD, depression, substance use disorder) was associated with higher rates of STIs and SDDs among Veterans who screened positive for MST. Using VA data, investigators identified 420,725 OEF/OIF Veterans (52,484 female; 368,241 male) who used VA healthcare in FY02 to FY10, and assessed the following variables: MST, sexual health diagnoses, and mental health diagnoses.

Findings show that a number of STI and SDD diagnoses were more common among OEF/OIF Veterans who reported a history of MST compared to Veterans without a history of MST. There were no instances in which any of the sexual health diagnoses were significantly higher among Veterans who did not report a history of MST, even after controlling for age and length of time in VA healthcare. Moreover, among Veterans with a history of MST, the risk of having an STI or SDD increased in the presence of certain mental health diagnoses. Among women with a history of MST, those with a diagnosis of PTSD, depression, or a substance use disorder were significantly more likely to have an STI than women without these diagnoses. Among men with MST, only substance use disorder increased their risk for an STI. Among women with a history of MST, those with a diagnosis of depression were significantly more likely to have an SDD than women without a depressive disorder. Among men with MST, those with a diagnosis of PTSD or depression were more likely to have an SDD diagnosis than men without either disorder.

This study emphasizes the importance of sexual health screening, particularly among Veterans with a history of MST. It also highlights the importance of multidisciplinary collaboration between medical and mental health care providers to adequately care for Veterans with sexual health concerns.

Turchik J, Pavao J, Nazarian D, Iqbal S, McLean C, and Kimerling R. Sexually transmitted infections and sexual dysfunctions among newly returned Veterans with and without military sexual trauma. International Journal of Sexual Health December 5, 2011;e-pub ahead of print.

Dr. Kimerling is part of HSR&D's Center for Health Care Evaluation, Palo Alto, CA.

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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.