The Impacts of Service Related Exposures on Trajectories of Mental Health Among Aging Veterans

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2018 Oct 10;73(8):e131-e142. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbw149.


Objectives: Drawing on life-course perspective and cumulative advantage theory, we examined whether service related exposures (SREs)-combat and exposure to death-have lasting impacts on depressive symptom and psychiatric problem trajectories of aging veterans.

Methods: The Health and Retirement Study and linked 2013 Veterans Mail Survey were used to examine SREs and mental health among older veterans between 2002 and 2012 (N = 1,662). Latent growth curves were used to measure how individuals vary from average mental health trajectories based on SREs and other important covariates.

Results: Exposure to death had a significant and lasting effect on depressive symptoms for veterans in late life but was reduced to nonsignificance when physical health trajectories were included. Combat and exposure to death had independent and robust impacts on psychiatric problems, which were robust in final models.

Discussion: SREs presented varied and significant impacts, suggesting that combat does not work alone in driving poor mental health trajectories, and that exposure to death is a more robust risk marker for later outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged / psychology
  • Aged / statistics & numerical data
  • Armed Conflicts / psychology*
  • Armed Conflicts / statistics & numerical data
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / etiology
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Veterans / psychology*
  • Veterans / statistics & numerical data