Reversals in initially denied Department of Veterans Affairs’ PTSD disability claims after 17 years: a cohort study of gender differences

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BACKGROUND: In 2011, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) strengthened its disability claims processes for military sexual trauma, hoping to reduce gender differences in initial posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) disability awards. These process improvements should also have helped women reverse previously denied claims and, potentially, diminished gender discrepancies in appealed claims' outcomes. Our objectives were to examine gender differences in reversals of denied PTSD claims' outcomes after 2011, determine whether disability awards (also known as "service connection") for other disorders offset any PTSD gender discrepancy, and identify mediating confounders that could explain any persisting discrepancy.

METHODS: From a nationally representative cohort created in 1998, we examined service connection outcomes in 253 men and 663 women whose initial PTSD claims were denied. The primary outcome was PTSD service connection as of August 24, 2016. Secondary outcomes were service connection for any disorder and total disability rating. The total disability rating determines the generosity of Veterans' benefits.

RESULTS: 51.4% of men and 31.3% of women were service connected for PTSD by study's end (p < 0.001). At inception, 54.2% of men and 63.2% of women had any service connection-i.e., service connection for disorders other than PTSD (p = 0.01) and similar total disability ratings (p = 0.50). However, by study's end, more men than women had any service connection (88.5% versus 83.5%, p = 0.05), and men's mean total disability rating was substantially greater than women's (77.1 ± 26.2 versus 66.8 ± 30.7, p < 0.001). History of military sexual assault had the largest effect modification on men's versus women's odds of PTSD service connection.

CONCLUSION: Even after 2011, cohort men were more likely than the women to reverse initially denied PTSD claims, and military sexual assault history accounted for much of this difference. Service connection for other disorders initially offset women's lower rate of PTSD service connection, but, ultimately, men's total disability ratings exceeded women's. Gender discrepancies in service connection should be monitored beyond the initial claims period.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number70
JournalBMC Women's Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • Cohort studies
  • Compensation
  • Gender
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Veterans disability claims
  • United States
  • Veterans
  • Humans
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic/epidemiology
  • Male
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Veterans Disability Claims
  • Female
  • United States Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Cohort Studies

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Journal Article


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