Highlights of VA research on post-deployment health
August 13, 2018
VA Research Spotlight is a monthly roundup of research news on topics affecting Veterans' health. This month our focus is on research that examines disease, trauma, and mental health issues that affect Veterans after they return home from deployment.
Gulf War Veterans
VA researchers are learning about conditions affecting Gulf War Veterans and identifying the best ways to diagnose and treat them. Their efforts are guided by a strategic plan for Gulf War research developed with input from leading scientists, physicians, and Veterans themselves. VA investigators are conducting research in many areas important to Gulf War Veterans. These include studies on pain, autoimmune disease, neurodegenerative disease, sleep disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, respiratory problems, and other chronic diseases.
Afghanistan & Iraq Veterans
VA has a comprehensive research agenda to address the deployment-related health issues of Veterans who have returned from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This newest generation of Veterans is characterized by an increased number of Reservists and National Guard members who served in combat zones; a higher proportion of women; and different patterns of injuries, such as multiple injuries from explosions, than were seen among Veterans of previous wars.
Approximately 2.7 million American men and women served in Vietnam. Vietnam Veterans represent the largest cohort of American Veterans in terms of service era. VA's War Related Illness and Injury Study Center (WRIISC) provides post-deployment health expertise to Vietnam Veterans and their health care providers through clinical programs, research, education, and risk communication.
VA Research Infographics
Chronic multisymptom illness among Iraq/Afghanistan Veterans
VA study based on records of 501,996 male and 69,611 female OEF/OIF/OND Veterans who used any VA care between 2002 and 2011.
VA Research Currents
VA scientists seek to learn whether Veterans with Gulf War illness have problems with their gut bacteria. The team is doing a pilot study involving 52 Veterans. (06/13/2018)
Agent Orange presumption policy leads to higher VA health care use
A VA study shows that for Vietnam Veterans, having a medical condition presumed related to Agent Orange exposure is linked to greater use of VA care, as per lawmakers' intent when they passed the Agent Orange Act of 1991. (06/13/2018)
Meditation in motion
VA researchers are studying whether tai chi, an ancient Chinese mind-body therapy, can help relieve the chronic pain, fatigue, and other symptoms experienced by many Gulf War Veterans. (05/24/2018)
Some returning Vets are not breathing easy: Could war-zone dust mites be part of the problem?
A team in Baltimore is studying how dust mites affect respiratory health. Past research suggested they could be among several causes of asthma and other lung disorders among some Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans. (05/31/2018)
White matter damage linked to chronic musculoskeletal pain in Gulf War Veterans
A study from the Madison VA Hospital in Wisconsin has linked structural damage in the white matter of the brain to chronic musculoskeletal pain in Gulf War Veterans. (10/26/2017)
Researchers find evidence of DNA damage in Vets with Gulf War illness
VA researchers say they have found the "first direct biological evidence" of damage in Veterans with Gulf War illness to DNA within cellular structures that produce energy in the body. (10/19/2017)
Researchers pinpoint reductions in brain volume of ill Gulf War Vets
A study at the Minneapolis VA Health Care System has shown a "systematic and significant" reduction in brain volumes of about 10 percent in Vets with Gulf War illness, compared with non-affected Veterans. (07/20/2017)
Voices of VA Research Podcast Series
Dr. Harold Koenig of the Center for Spirituality, Theology, and Health at Duke University is one of the top proponents in the research community for using religion as a therapy for Veterans with PTSD. He's aligning this approach with former service members who are victims of moral injury—a conflict with an individual's personal code of morality. (04-03-2018) Researcher examines if religion can cure feelings of guilt in Veterans with PTSD
VA Research Quarterly Update
Severe combat injuries could elevate high blood pressure risk in Veterans with PTSD
Veterans who served during the Afghanistan or Iraq wars and were severely injured are at greater risk of developing high blood pressure later in life, according to a study published in Hypertension. Researchers say injury severity is an independent risk factor for high blood pressure, and does not depend on later development of posttraumatic stress disorder. (May 2018)
Reintegration experiences for National Guard service members
National Guard members can experience unique challenges when returning to the United States and their civilian lives. Researchers with the VA Ann Arbor Health Care System interviewed 78 OEF/OIF National Guard service members about their experiences with reintegration. (February 2018)
VA Research News Briefs
Longer ‘dwell time’ linked to fewer PTSD symptoms
Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Holly L. Herline/USN
Longer time home between deployments, or “dwell time,” is linked to fewer long-term PTSD symptoms in Veterans, found a Central Texas Veterans Health Care System study. Researchers looked at data for 278 Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan three years after discharge. They found that those with time between deployments less than 12 months had the highest long-term PTSD symptoms. Consistent with other studies, combat exposure was linked to more PTSD symptoms. Average length of deployment and number of deployments did not significantly affect long-term PTSD symptoms; intensity of combat exposure had a much bigger effect than either. The researchers conclude that “in addition to combat exposure, time between deployments warrants clinical attention as an important deployment characteristic for predicting long-term PTSD symptoms.” (
, April 2018)
Journal of Clinical Psychology
Cannabis use disorder linked to self-injury
Cannabis use disorder was linked to greater odds of self-injury, in a study by Durham VA Medical Center and Central Texas VA Health Care System researchers. The researchers interviewed 292 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans. Of those, 13 percent had engaged in either suicidal or non-suicidal self-injury. Fourteen percent of Veterans interviewed had cannabis use disorder—defined as continued use of marijuana despite impairment and dependence. Participants with cannabis use disorder had three times higher odds of any type of self-injury, compared to those without the disorder. The odds of non-suicidal self-injury were higher than the odds of suicide attempts for participants with cannabis use disorder. While the results may show that cannabis use disorder increases the risk of self-injury, the basis for this link is not yet clear, caution the researchers. (
, April 9, 2018
Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior
Vets with mental health diagnoses have higher risk of respiratory problems
Veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with mental health diagnoses are more likely to have respiratory problems, found a VA Portland Health Care System study. Researchers looked at data for more than 180,000 Veterans. Fourteen percent had a respiratory condition such as bronchitis, asthma, or COPD. Of those, 77 percent also had a mental health condition diagnosis. Those with a mental health condition were more likely to have a respiratory condition, but the reverse was not true. While the results do not show causation between the two conditions, they show the importance of care coordination for Veterans with multiple conditions, according to the researchers. (
Military Medicine, Feb. 6, 2018)
View more VA Research News Briefs