Study Suggests Having Dependent Children Associated with Increased Risk of PTSD among OEF/OIF Veterans
Studies estimate the risk of PTSD to be as high as 29% of OEF/OIF Veterans seeking care in the VA healthcare system. With such a large at-risk population, extensive research has been devoted to identifying the factors that place an individual at risk for developing PTSD and that facilitate treatment. Several studies have identified relationship concerns, including prolonged separation from children, as an additional psychological strain on parents in the military. This is the first study to examine whether being the parent of a dependent child was, in itself, associated with the likelihood of post-deployment PTSD diagnosis among Veterans. Using VA administrative data, investigators identified more than 400,000 OEF/OIF Veterans that utilized VA healthcare services for the first time between 10/05 and 9/09. From this group, they identified 36,334 Veterans with dependent children and matched them on age, gender, and demobilization month with 36,334 Veterans without dependent children. Investigators also examined medical and mental health comorbidity and potentially stress-related care, i.e., treatment in a substance use disorder (SUD) clinic, a psychiatric inpatient admission, or major surgery.
- After controlling for demographics, mental healthcare use, and other serious mental illness, OEF/OIF Veterans with dependent children were about 40% more likely to carry a diagnosis of PTSD. This association was stronger among men than women.
- Other variables associated with increased odds of PTSD diagnosis included male gender, white race, Hispanic ethnicity, younger age, Priority 1 status, more than one dependent child, depression or SUD diagnosis, greater use of mental health services, and more medical comorbidities.
- Veterans with dependent children had greater VA mental healthcare utilization, including inpatient psychiatric admissions and mental health counseling visits.
- This study was designed to examine the potential association between parenthood and PTSD diagnosis. Further research is needed to determine causality, if any.
- It is unknown whether Veterans developed PTSD before or after the birth of their children.
- It may be of value for clinicians to consider parental status when treating Veterans with PTSD.
This study was partly funded by HSR&D (IIR 09-335). Drs. Stock, Tsan, A. MacCarthy, D. MacCarthy, and Copeland are part of the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System.
Janke-Stedronsky S, Stock E, Tsan J, MacCarthy A, MacCarthy D, and Copeland L. Association of Parental Status and Diagnosis of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder among Veterans of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. January 19, 2015;e-pub ahead of print.