Study highlights PTSD among female Vietnam War veterans

A new study suggests that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be more common among female veterans who served in the Vietnam War than previously thought.

Around 20 percent of women who served in Vietnam as part of the U.S. military between the 1960s and 1970s have experienced PTSD. Many female veterans are still living with the disorder. The researchers noted that although PTSD was common among men who served in Vietnam, not much is known about its impact on women’s health.

“Because current PTSD is still present in many of these women decades after their military service, clinicians who treat them should continue to screen for PTSD symptoms and be sensitive to their noncombat wartime experiences,” said the study’s lead author Kathryn Magruder, of the Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Charleston, South Carolina.

Magruder and her team examined the survey responses of 1,956 women who were stationed in Vietnam, 657 who served near Vietnam and 1,606 who remained in the United States during the Vietnam War. The participants were interviewed starting in 2011 and their medical records were reviewed. The findings were published online in JAMA Psychiatry on Oct. 7.

More than half of the women served as nurses during the war as members of the Army and Air Force. The researchers said they were still exposed to sources of stress even though they did not participate in combat. About 16 percent of female veterans who were stationed in Vietnam still experienced PTSD when surveyed, compared to around 8 percent of women who had served near Vietnam and about 9 percent who remained in the United States.

Many female Vietnam veterans still suffer due to their wartime experiences. The study results suggest that exposure to sexual harassment, job performance pressure and other stressors heighten the chances of PTSD. The study highlights the need to change military culture so that sexual harassment is not a PTSD risk factor for future generations.

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