Intimate Partner Violence Among Pregnant Veterans: Prevalence, Associated Mental Health Conditions, and Health Care Utilization

J Gen Intern Med. 2021 Oct;36(10):2982-2988. doi: 10.1007/s11606-020-06498-3. Epub 2021 Jan 19.


Background: Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a prevalent and serious health concern for women veterans, associated with mental and physical health symptoms. The adverse impacts of IPV are exacerbated during pregnancy, with added risks for pregnancy and postpartum outcomes.

Objective: Identify the scope of IPV among pregnant veterans and associations with health outcomes.

Design: Data were obtained from a national retrospective cohort study.

Participants: Study participants were 442 pregnant veterans using VHA maternity care benefits.

Main measures: Mental health history was assessed via self-report measure and chart review; history of IPV and perinatal depression were assessed via brief validated self-report measures.

Key results: Fourteen percent of the sample reported past-year IPV. Report of past-year IPV was associated with higher self-reported rates of lifetime mental health disorders including depression (p = 0.01), posttraumatic stress disorder (p = 0.02), anxiety disorders (p = 0.05), mood disorders (p = 0.01), bipolar disorder (p = 0.001), and eating disorders (p = 0.003); past-year IPV was also associated with the diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder during pregnancy (p = 0.002). Additionally, past-year IPV was associated with higher rates of military sexual trauma (MST; p = 0.03), pregnancy health risk behaviors (i.e., smoking, alcohol, and drug use; p = 0.004), greater number of VHA mental health visits during pregnancy (p = 0.04), and a lower likelihood of seeking social support from a spouse or partner (p < 0.0001).

Conclusions: Results indicate substantial rates of IPV among pregnant veterans, and high rates of mental health conditions which may be exacerbated by MST experience and lower likelihood of seeking social support. Clinicians treating pregnant veterans should screen for and address IPV and mental health treatment needs, and risks should be assessed among pregnant veterans experiencing IPV.

Keywords: intimate partner violence; perinatal depression; pregnancy; veterans; women.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intimate Partner Violence*
  • Maternal Health Services*
  • Mental Health
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Pregnancy
  • Prevalence
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Veterans*