Does Childhood Abuse Impact the Health Care Use of Women Veterans?

Childhood physical abuse remains an important contributor to physical and mental health even after adjusting for the more proximate experience of military sexual trauma.



Although women veterans use outpatient services for primary care and mental health services in greater numbers than do men, the reasons remain unclear. To help determine these causes, researchers from Harvard South Shore Psychiatry Residency Training Program, VA Boston Healthcare System, Women’s Health Sciences Division of the National Center for PTSD, and Boston University School of Medicine, all in Boston, Massachusetts, and supported by the VHA, investigated whether physical or sexual abuse in childhood could serve as a predictor later for health symptoms and health care use for women veterans.

Related: PTSD in Women and Men

The researchers reviewed data from 369 women at VA hospitals in New England through a mailed survey. In this sample, 109 (29%) reported that they had been abused as a child. After adjusting for age, race, military branch, childhood sexual abuse, and military sexual trauma, the researchers found that physical abuse in childhood serves as a significant predictor of decreased physical health and higher rates of depressive or posttraumatic stress disorder conditions. However, this study did not find strong associations between sexual abuse in childhood and poor mental and physical health later.

Related: Discussing the Suicide Risk of Military Women

The authors suggest that screening women veterans for traumatic childhood experiences could help expedite access to proper physical and mental health treatment plans.

Related: What to Do When You Suspect Domestic Violence

Mercado RC, Wiltsey-Stirman S, Iverson KM. Mil Med. 2015;180(10):1065-1074.
doi: 10.7205/MILMED-D-14-00719.

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