Background: we sought to describe gender differences in medical and mental health conditions and health care utilization among veterans who used Veterans Health Administration (VA) services in the first year after combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Methods: this is an observational study, using VA administrative and clinical data bases, of 163,812 Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans who had enrolled in VA and who had at least one visit within 1 year of last deployment.
Results: female veterans were slightly younger (mean age, 30 years vs. 32 for men; p <.0001), twice as likely to be African American (30% vs. 15%; p <.0001), and less likely to be married (32% vs. 49%; p < .0001). Women had more visits to primary care (2.6 vs. 2.0; p < .001) and mental health (4.0 vs. 3.6; p < .001) clinics and higher use of community care outside the VA (14% vs. 10%; p < .001). After adjustment for significant demographic differences, women were more likely to have musculoskeletal and skin disorders, mild depression, major depression, and adjustment disorders, whereas men were more likely to have ear disorders and posttraumatic stress disorder. Thirteen percent of women sought care for gynecologic examination, 10% for contraceptive counseling, and 7% for menstrual disorders.
Conclusion: female veterans had similar rates of physical conditions, but higher rates of some mental health disorders and additionally, used the VA for reproductive health needs. They also had slightly greater rates of health care service use. These findings highlight the complexity of female Veteran health care and support the development of enhanced comprehensive women's health services within the VA.
2011 Jacobs Institute of Women's Health. Published by Elsevier Inc.