Maintaining the social support of military peers after active duty is associated with better physical health among women Veterans, regardless of whether or not they have posttraumatic stress disorder, say researchers at the VA Puget Sound Health Care Center. Their study appeared online Nov. 6, 2013, in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.
The study involved more than 3,600 women Veterans from across the country. The women, who included Vietnam-era as well as OIF and OEF Veterans, underwent PTSD screening. Seventy percent reported trauma exposure and among those 19 percent screened positive for PTSD.
Among other questions, the researchers asked the Veterans about military social support. Specifically, they asked them how much they agreed with the statement: “You have been able to maintain the social support of your military friends.”
That information, in addition to the women’s PTSD status, was analyzed against self-reported physical health and the number of times the women had accessed VA care. Screening positive for PTSD was linked to poorer health and more use of health care resources. Greater military social support was associated with better health and less frequent health care utilization. The positive impact of social support was significant regardless of the women’s PTSD status.
Social support is an important protective factor that warrants further investigation.
“This research demonstrates that military social support for women Veterans is a significant predictor of their physical well-being regardless of whether they screened positive or negative for PTSD,” said lead author Dr. Keren Lehavot. “It suggests social support is an important protective factor that warrants further investigation.”
The study was limited in that Veterans may have misreported hospital visits, trauma, or other information. Furthermore, social support is complex and what holds true for women Veterans might not for male Veterans. For example, one 2013 study found that military peers protected men from mental health issues and civilian support played a larger role among female Marine recruits.
Despite the limitations, the study offers a glimpse into potential red flags as well as possible treatment options to improve overall health among women Veterans.