Objective: Although women in the military are exposed to combat and its aftermath, little is known about whether combat as well as pre-deployment risk/protective factors differentially predict post-deployment PTSD symptoms among women compared to men. The current study assesses the influence of combat-related stressors and pre-deployment risk/protective factors on women's risk of developing PTSD symptoms following deployment relative to men's risk. Method: Participants were 801 US National Guard Soldiers (712 men, 89 women) deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan who completed measures of potential risk/protective factors and PTSD symptoms one month before deployment (Time 1) and measures of deployment-related stressors and PTSD symptoms about 2-3 months after returning from deployment (Time 2). Results: Men reported greater exposure to combat situations than women, while women reported greater sexual stressors during deployment than men. Exposure to the aftermath of combat (e.g., witnessing injured/dying people) did not differ by gender. At Time 2, women reported more severe PTSD symptoms and higher rates of probable PTSD than did men. Gender remained a predictor of higher PTSD symptoms after accounting for pre-deployment symptoms, prior interpersonal victimization, and combat related stressors. Gender moderated the association between several risk factors (combat-related stressors, prior interpersonal victimization, lack of unit support and pre-deployment concerns about life/family disruptions) and post-deployment PTSD symptoms. Conclusions: Elevated PTSD symptoms among female service members were not explained simply by gender differences in pre-deployment or deployment-related risk factors. Combat related stressors, prior interpersonal victimization, and pre-deployment concerns about life and family disruptions during deployment were differentially associated with greater post-deployment PTSD symptoms for women than men.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This research was supported by grants from the Minnesota Medical Foundation (Grant #3662-9227-06) and Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) (W81XWH-07-2-003). This material is the result of work supported with resources and the use of facilities at the Minneapolis VA Health Care System, Minneapolis, MN. Drs. Kehle-Forbes and Meis are supported by VA Health Services Research & Development Career Development Awards.
- Gender differences
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Risk factors