A disproportionate burden: Prevalence of trauma and mental health difficulties among sexual minority versus heterosexual U.S. military veterans

J Psychiatr Res. 2023 May:161:477-482. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2023.03.042. Epub 2023 Apr 1.

Abstract

This study examined sociodemographic, military, and trauma characteristics, and mental health concerns that differ by sexual orientation in a nationally representative sample of U.S. military veterans. Data were analyzed from 4069 veterans who participated in the National Health and Resilience Veterans Study (NHRVS). Compared with veterans who self-reported as heterosexual (n = 3,491, 94.7%), sexual minority veterans (n = 161, 5.3%) were more likely to be younger, women, Hispanic, unmarried/partnered, have lower household income, and to have enlisted in the military, and served for 4-9 years (relative to 3 or less or 10 or more). After adjusting for demographic variables, sexual minority veterans remained more likely to report childhood sexual abuse (odds ratio [OR] = 2.82), military sexual trauma (OR = 2.29), adverse childhood experiences (Cohen's d = 0.11), current and lifetime drug use disorder (ORs = 3.66 and 2.41, respectively), current alcohol use disorder (OR = 1.62), current and lifetime posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD; ORs = 2.03 and 1.55, respectively), non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI; OR = 3.19), and future suicide intent (OR = 2.65). Among sexual minority veterans, more years of military service was associated with greater odds of lifetime PTSD, and lower annual household income with greater odds of lifetime drug use disorder and NSSI. Consistent with research in non-veterans, results suggest that sexual minority veterans experience greater trauma and mental health burden relative to their heterosexual peers. They further underscore the importance of interventions that prevent and mitigate adverse mental health outcomes in this population.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Heterosexuality
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Military Personnel*
  • Prevalence
  • Sexual and Gender Minorities*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / psychology
  • Substance-Related Disorders*
  • Suicidal Ideation
  • Veterans* / psychology