Anticipated Impact on Veterans'Healthcare: Findings regarding female Veterans'compared to male Veterans', occupational and family functioning following return from deployment, as well as associated implications for Veterans'need for and use of VA services, can be applied to better tailor VA programs and services to meet the gender-specific needs of returning Veterans. Project Background: Both employment and family problems have been identified as key issues for returning Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) Veterans. Given the role of work and family experiences in Veterans'readjustment to civilian life, it is critical to understand the impact that Veterans'post deployment mental health has on their functioning in these domains, as well as the implications of Veterans'occupational and work functioning for their need for and use of VA programs and services. With women's increasing representation in the armed forces, their associated risk for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and the lack of research on their work and family experiences after deployment, female Veterans represent an underserved and important population for additional investigation. The proposed project builds on an existing study with a large national sample of female and male OEF/OIF Veterans (HSR&D study DHI 09-086), by proposing two follow-up data collections to examine longitudinal relationships involving female Veterans', as compared to male Veterans', occupational and family functioning over time. Specifically, this project will examine gender differences in the effects of deployment stressors and their associated mental health sequelae on Veterans'post deployment functioning in both work and family domains, as well as association between Veterans'post deployment functioning and their need for and use of a broad range of VA programs and services (i.e., health-care, employment, and education services). Project Objectives:
The specific aims of the proposed project are to document: (1) female Veterans'functioning, as it compares to male Veterans'functioning, in work and family domains following return from deployment;(2) gender differences in the role of exposure to potentially traumatic experiences during deployment (e.g., combat and military sexual trauma) and subsequent mental health sequelae (e.g., PTSD) in Veterans'functioning in work and family domains;and (3) gender differences in associations among post deployment mental health, occupational and family functioning and their complex interplay, and Veterans'use of VA services. The longer-term objective of this project is to provide information that can be applied t better target VA programs and services to the unique needs of female versus male Veterans. Project Methods: In an earlier study, deployment-related stressors and post deployment mental health were assessed in a national sample of female and male OEF/OIF Veterans (N=1,048;54% female Veterans;46% male Veterans). This project proposes to recontact this sample approximately 2 years later to assess occupational and family functioning, mental health symptomatology, and VA service use. An additional follow-up is targeted for approximately 1 year after the first, yielding 3 total assessment points that will allow for an examination of change over time. Proposed relationships will be tested using structural equation modeling (SEM), and supplemented by chi square tests and regression analyses as appropriate. Gender comparisons will be tested directly via multi-group SEM.
The proposed research is directly responsive to the identified need for more information on the challenges female Veterans face as they transition from military service to the civilian workforce, as well as the growing interest in better understanding the gender-specific impact of deployment stress and associated mental health sequelae (e.g., PTSD) on Veterans'postdeployment functioning. Specifically, the focus of the proposed longitudinal study is to better understand female Veterans', as compared to male Veterans', occupational and family functioning in the postdeployment period, with a particular focus on implications for Veterans'need for, and use of, VA programs and services (i.e., health, employment, and education services). The extent to which VA services address gender-specific needs of returning Veterans is not yet well understood, and this project, which will include a large national sample of female and male OEF/OIF Veterans, will help fill this gap.