Lifetime History of Sexual Assault and Emergency Department Service Use among Women Veterans

Womens Health Issues. 2020 Sep-Oct;30(5):374-383. doi: 10.1016/j.whi.2020.05.003. Epub 2020 Jun 19.


Background: Although sexual assault survivors are at increased risk for adverse physical and mental health outcomes and tend to use more health care services, little is known about women veterans' lifetime history of experiencing sexual assault (lifetime sexual assault [LSA]) and emergency department (ED) use. We sought to examine associations between experiencing LSA, mental health diagnoses, and ED use among women veterans.

Methods: Computer-assisted telephone interviews were conducted with 980 women veterans enrolled at two Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Centers to assess history of experiencing LSA, health care use, sociodemographic characteristics, and military history. Administrative data provided VA use, mental health, and medical diagnoses. Logistic regression analyses examined associations between experiencing LSA and mental health diagnoses and past 5-year ED use. Classification tree analysis characterized ED use in participant subgroups.

Results: Sixty-four percent of participants visited a VA or non-VA ED during the previous 5 years. Women veterans with histories of mental health diagnoses and who experienced sexual assault had an odds of ED use almost two times greater than those with no history of experiencing sexual assault and no mental health diagnoses. The odds were similar for experiencing attempted (adjusted odds ratio, 1.85) and completed (adjusted odds ratio, 1.95) sexual assault. Classification tree analysis identified reliance on VA care and the composite variable representing experiencing LSA and mental health diagnoses as factors that best discriminated ED users from nonusers.

Conclusions: Experiencing LSA is associated with greater ED use in women veterans enrolled in the VA. Whether finding this reflects greater emergent health care needs, suboptimal access and treatment for conditions that could be managed in other settings, lack of health care coordination, or some combination of these factors is unclear.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Mental Health
  • Middle Aged
  • Sex Offenses / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States
  • United States Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Veterans / statistics & numerical data*
  • Veterans Health
  • Young Adult