Many Risk Factors for Post-Traumatic Stress Symptomatology among OEF/OIF Veterans have Pre-Deployment Origins
The mental health condition most commonly associated with trauma exposure is PTSD, and there is a large body of literature aimed at exploring the psychosocial risk factors for PTSD. Prior research on risk factors for post-traumatic stress symptomatology (PTSS) in war-exposed Veterans has revealed both direct and indirect mechanisms of risk that span pre-deployment, deployment, and post-deployment timeframes. This study sought to identify the mechanisms through which previously documented risk factors (among Vietnam Veterans) contribute to PTSS in a national sample of female (n = 333) and male (n = 246) OEF/OIF Veterans exposed to combat operations who had returned from deployment in the 12 months preceding the study. Using mailed, self-reported survey data, investigators assessed several factors, including: warfare exposure (e.g., firing a weapon, being fired upon, witnessing injury or death); aftermath of battle (e.g., exposure to human remains); relationship disruptions, childhood family functioning (e.g., family cohesion), and post-deployment support (e.g., emotional support from family and friends). Gender differences were examined for all variables.
- Post-traumatic stress symptomatology (PTSS) appears to be accounted for by multiple chains of risk, many of which originate in pre-deployment experiences (e.g., history of trauma, troubled family backgrounds) that put both female and male OEF/OIF Veterans at risk for additional stress exposure. Moreover, earlier experiences of stress may lead to the depletion of resources over time, as well as greater risk of subsequent stress exposure.
- The majority of previously documented risk pathways in Vietnam Veterans held for both women (88%) and men (75%) in this sample of OEF/OIF Veterans, providing support for the generalizability of mechanisms of risk for PTSS across Veteran populations.
- Relationship concerns during deployment increased risk for PTSS, especially among female Veterans. Female Veterans who reported more concerns about relationship disruptions during deployment also reported less post-deployment social support.
- Warfare exposure had a direct effect on PTSS, suggesting that those who experience high levels of objective events of combat, even those who don’t report experiencing high levels of threat or fear, appear to be at risk for PTSS.
- Female OEF/OIF Veterans reported lower levels of warfare exposure and relationship concerns than male OEF/OIF Veterans. No significant differences were found between men and women for childhood family functioning, prior stressors, perceived threat, post-deployment stressors, post-deployment social support, or PTSS.
- Direct comparisons between men and women in this study were not possible.
- This study relied on retrospective self-reported data.
This study was partly funded by HSR&D (IAC 06-259). Dr. Vogt is part of VA’s National Center for PTSD, Boston, MA, and Dr. Elwy is part of HSR&D’s Center for Health Quality, Outcomes and Economic Research, Bedford, MA.
Vogt D, Smith B, Elwy R, et al. Pre-Deployment, Deployment, and Post-Deployment Risk Factors for Post-Traumatic Stress Symptomatology in Female and Male OEF/OIF Veterans. Journal of Abnormal Psychology June 27, 2011;Epub ahead of print.