Office of Research & Development

Survey of national sample: PTSD affects more than one in eight women Veterans

A recent VA study was the first to assess the prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder in women Veterans from all eras, including both VA patients and those who receive their health care outside VA. In the above 2007 photo, female troops take part in a training session in Iraq. (Photo by Sgt. James R. Richardson, USMC)
Women Veterans and PTSD—A recent VA study was the first to assess the prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder in women Veterans from all eras, including both VA patients and those who receive their health care outside VA. In the above 2007 photo, female troops take part in a training session in Iraq. (Photo by Sgt. James R. Richardson, USMC)
Women Veterans and PTSD—A recent VA study was the first to assess the prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder in women Veterans from all eras, including both VA patients and those who receive their health care outside VA. In the above 2007 photo, female troops take part in a training session in Iraq. (Photo by Sgt. James R. Richardson, USMC)

In a national survey of women Veterans from various eras, 13 percent screened positive for posttraumatic stress disorder. Among U.S. women in general, the lifetime prevalence of PTSD is just under 10 percent.

The study included 3,611 women Veterans of all ages from across the U.S. who were surveyed in 2008 and 2009. The researchers used a PTSD questionnaire that has been validated with both civilian and VA primary care patients.

The study is the first to establish the overall prevalence of PTSD among women Veterans in the U.S. Previous studies have focused only on those who use VA care, or women who served during a specific era.

Among the findings:

  • Nearly 29 percent of those who screened positive for PTSD had served in a combat zone or been exposed to combat, compared with about 16 percent of PTSD-negative women.
  • 43 percent of PTSD-positive women reported having been sexually assaulted in the military, versus about 5 percent of those who screened negative for PTSD
  • About 38 percent of those who screened positive for PTSD reported a past diagnosis of the condition, compared with about 3 percent for women who screened negative.

The study found that overall, less than half of the women who screened positive for PTSD had accessed mental health care in the past year. A majority of those enrolled in VA care had done so, but only a minority of those not enrolled in VA had done so.

The authors say most women Veterans "use health care providers outside VA who may be unaware of their [V]eteran status and PTSD risk."

The authors cite numerous ways in which VA has expanded outreach and care for women with PTSD. They say more is needed to identify women with PTSD and engage them in care, and to educate non-VA providers.

The study was conducted by a team with VA and the University of California, Los Angeles. It was published along with several others on women Veterans' health in a special supplement to the Journal of General Internal Medicine, released online Feb. 23.