Childhood physical abuse and combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder in Vietnam veterans

Am J Psychiatry. 1993 Feb;150(2):235-9. doi: 10.1176/ajp.150.2.235.


Objective: Early trauma in the form of childhood physical or sexual abuse has been associated with adult psychopathology. The purpose of this study was to compare rates of childhood abuse in Vietnam veterans with and without combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Method: Premilitary stressful and traumatic events including childhood abuse and other potential predisposing factors were assessed in Vietnam combat veterans who sought treatment for PTSD (N = 38) and Vietnam combat veterans without PTSD who sought treatment for medical disorders (N = 28). Stressful and traumatic events including childhood physical abuse were assessed with the Checklist of Stressful and Traumatic Events and a clinician-administered interview for the assessment of childhood abuse. Level of combat exposure was measured with the Combat Exposure Scale.

Results: Vietnam veterans with PTSD had higher rates of childhood physical abuse than Vietnam veterans without PTSD (26% versus 7%). The association between childhood abuse and PTSD persisted after controlling for the difference in level of combat exposure between the two groups. Patients with PTSD also had a significantly higher rate of total traumatic events before joining the military than patients without PTSD (mean = 4.6, SD = 4.5, versus mean = 2.8, SD = 2.9).

Conclusions: These findings suggest that patients seeking treatment for combat-related PTSD have higher rates of childhood physical abuse than combat veterans without PTSD. Childhood physical abuse may be an antecedent to the development of combat-related PTSD in Vietnam combat veterans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Causality
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / epidemiology*
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / epidemiology
  • Comorbidity
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Personality Inventory
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / etiology
  • Veterans / psychology
  • Vietnam