Influence of Military Sexual Trauma among Male Veterans
Military sexual trauma (MST) refers to sexual harassment and/or sexual assault experienced by military personnel during active duty service. Existing research examining the impact of MST on Veterans post-deployment emphasizes the link between MST and high rates of mental health diagnoses such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorder. Less is known about the influence of MST on overall well-being, including interpersonal and social functioning. Moreover, research addressing the influence of MST in military personnel has generally focused on women. This study examined the demographic and diagnostic profiles, as well as interpersonal and vocational post-deployment functioning, in a large sample of OEF/OIF male Veterans. Study participants completed psychosocial and diagnostic mental health clinical evaluations, as well as a risk and resiliency self-report measure at one large VAMC between May 2004 and March 2008. Of the 961 male Veterans in this study, 18% (n=173) self-reported MST perpetrated by a member of their unit, compared to only 0.3% having been reported during a clinical diagnostic interview. All Veterans had completed at least one tour of active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan.
- MST was a significant predictor of lower social support, even after statistically controlling for other trauma exposure, and was significantly associated with perceived emotional mistreatment post-deployment.
- MST was not significantly associated with job loss or unemployment. Greater ratings of stressful life events were associated with a greater likelihood of job loss and unemployment, while greater ratings of social support were associated with a decreased likelihood of unemployment.
- Veterans who reported MST were more likely to be younger, less likely to be married, more likely to be diagnosed with a mood disorder, and more likely to have experienced non-MST sexual abuse either as children or adults.
- Results indicate the need for increased efforts to treat depression and loss associated with MST (e.g., loss of control and trust resulting from the MST experience), to improve social support for these Veterans, and to address potential interpersonal and emotional experiences related to perceived emotional mistreatment. The authors also strongly recommend that future research be conducted to estimate the prevalence of MST among male soldiers – and to better understand the context in which MST occurs in order to inform interventions for this group.
- This study was archival in nature and prospective data that could provide more detailed information regarding experiences of MST and post-deployment adjustment were not available.
- Rates of MST were evaluated through Veterans' self-report, which likely underestimated occurences of MST experienced by male Veterans, who may be less likely to report it.
This study was partly funded through VA HSR&D's Substance Use Disorders Quality Enhancement Research Initiative (QUERI). Dr. Teng is part of HSR&D's Center for Innovations in Quality, Effectiveness and Safety (IQuEST).
Mondragon S, Wang D, Pritchett L, Graham D, Plasencia M, and Teng E. The Influence of Military Sexual Trauma on Returning OEF/OIF Male Veterans. Psychological Services. November 2015;12(4):402-11.