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Smith BN, Spiro A, Frayne SM, Kimerling R, Cypel Y, Reinhard MJ, Kilbourne AM, Magruder KM. Impact of Wartime Stress Exposures and Mental Health on Later-Life Functioning and Disability in Vietnam-Era Women Veterans: Findings From the Health of Vietnam-Era Women's Study. Psychosomatic medicine. 2020 Feb 1; 82(2):147-157.
OBJECTIVE: The effect of stress exposures and mental health sequelae on health-related outcomes is understudied among older women veterans. We examined a) the impact of wartime stress exposures on later-life functioning and disability in Vietnam-era women veterans and b) the extent to which mental health conditions known to be associated with stress-posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder (MDD), and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)-are associated with additional later-life functioning and disability. METHODS: Data were collected in 2011 to 2012 using a mail survey and telephone interview of 4219 women veterans who were active duty during the Vietnam Era. Health functioning was assessed using the Veterans RAND 36-Item Health Survey, and disability was assessed using the World Health Organization Disability Assessment Schedule 2.0. Wartime exposures were assessed using the Women's War-Zone Stressor Scale-Revised; the Composite International Diagnostic Interview, version 3.0 was used to assess PTSD, MDD, and GAD. RESULTS: Several wartime stress exposures-including job-related pressures, dealing with death, and sexual discrimination and harassment-were associated with worse later-life health (ß ranges, -0.04 to -0.26 for functioning, 0.05 to 0.30 for disability). Current PTSD was linked with lower health functioning (physical, ß = -0.06; mental, ß = -0.15) and greater disability (ß = 0.14). Current MDD and GAD were also associated with lower mental health functioning (MDD, ß = -0.29; GAD, ß = -0.10) and greater disability (MDD, ß = 0.16; GAD, ß = 0.06). CONCLUSIONS: Results underscore the importance of detection and treatment of the potential long-term effects of wartime stressors and mental health conditions among women veterans.