Introduction: With the unprecedented expansion of women's roles in the U.S. military during recent (post-9/11) conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the number of women seeking healthcare through the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has increased substantially. Women Veterans often present as medically complex due to multiple medical, mental health, and psychosocial comorbidities, and consequently may be underserved. Thus, we conducted the nationwide Women Veterans Cohort Study (WVCS) to examine post-9/11 Veterans' unique healthcare needs and to identify potential disparities in health outcomes and care. Methods: We present baseline data from a comprehensive questionnaire battery that was administered from 2016 to 2019 to a national sample of post-9/11 men and women Veterans who enrolled in Veterans Affairs care (WVCS2). Data were analyzed for descriptives and to compare characteristics by gender, including demographics; health risk factors and symptoms of cardiovascular disease, chronic pain, and mental health; healthcare utilization, access, and insurance. Results: WVCS2 included 1,141 Veterans (51% women). Women were younger, more diverse, and with higher educational attainment than men. Women also endorsed lower traditional cardiovascular risk factors and comorbidities (e.g., weight, hypertension) and greater nontraditional cardiovascular risk factors (e.g., trauma, psychological symptoms). More women reported single-site pain (e.g., neck, stomach, pelvic) and multisite pain, but did not differ from men in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms or treatment for PTSD. Women seek care at VHA medical centers more frequently, often combined with outside health services, but do not significantly differ from men in their insurance coverage. Conclusion: Overall, this investigation indicates substantial variation in risk factors, health outcomes, and healthcare utilization among post-9/11 men and women Veterans. Further research is needed to determine best practices for managing women Veterans in the VHA healthcare system.
Keywords: Veterans; cardiovascular health; gender differences; mental health; pain; risk factors.