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Racial inequality in functional trajectories between Black and White U.S. veterans.

Jacobs JC, Bowling CB, Brown T, Smith VA, Decosimo K, Wilson SM, Hastings SN, Shepherd-Banigan M, Allen K, Van Houtven C. Racial inequality in functional trajectories between Black and White U.S. veterans. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 2023 Apr 1; 71(4):1081-1092.

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BACKGROUND: Racial inequality in functional trajectories has been well documented in the U.S. civilian population but has not been explored among Veterans. Our objectives were to: (1) assess how functional trajectories differed for Black and White Veterans aged = 50 and (2) explore how socioeconomic, psychosocial, and health-related factors altered the relationship between race and function. METHODS: We conducted a prospective, longitudinal analysis using the 2006-2016 Health and Retirement Study. The study cohort included 3700 Veterans who self-identified as Black or White, responded to baseline psychosocial questionnaires, and were community-dwelling on first observation. We used stepwise and stratified linear mixed effects models of biannually assessed functional limitations. The outcome measure was as a count of functional limitations. Race was measured as respondent self-identification as Black or White. Demographic measures included gender and age. Socioeconomic resources included partnership status, education, income, and wealth. Psychosocial stressors included exposure to day-to-day and major discrimination, traumatic life events, stressful life events, and financial strain. Health measures included chronic and mental health diagnoses, smoking, rurality, and use of Veterans Affairs services. RESULTS: Black Veterans developed functional limitations at earlier ages and experienced faster functional decline than White Veterans between the ages of 50 and 70, with convergence occurring at age 85. Once we accounted for economic resources and psychosocial stressors in multivariable analyses, the association between race and the number of functional limitations was no longer statistically significant. Lower wealth, greater financial strain, and traumatic life events were significantly associated with functional decline. CONCLUSIONS: Health systems should consider how to track Veterans'' function earlier in the life course to ensure that Black Veterans are able to get timely access to services that may slow premature functional decline. Providers may benefit from training about the role of economic resources and psychosocial stressors in physical health outcomes.

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