Gender Differences in service connection for PTSD.

BACKGROUND: Mentally ill female veterans obtain a smaller proportion of their care from Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities than mentally ill male veterans do, possibly because women are less likely than men to be service connected for psychiatric disabilities. “Service connected” veterans have documented, compensative conditions related to or aggravated by military service, and they receive priority for enrollment into the VA healthcare system.

OBJECTIVES: To see if there are gender discrepancies in rates of service connection for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, if so, to see if these discrepancies could be attributed to appropriate subject characteristics (eg, differences in symptom severity or impairment).

RESEARCH DESIGN: Mailed survey linked to administrative data. Claims audits were conducted on 11% of the sample. SUBJECTS: Randomly selected veterans seeking VA disability benefits for PTSD. Women were oversampled to achieve a gender ratio of 1:1.

RESULTS: A total of 3337 veterans returned usable surveys (effective response rate, 68%). Men’s unadjusted rate of service connection for PTSD was 71%; women’s, 52% (P < 0.0001). Adjustment for veterans’ PTSD symptom severity or functional impairment did not appreciably reduce this discrepancy, but adjustment for dissimilar rates of combat exposure did. Estimated rates of service connection were 53% for men and 56% for women after adjusting for combat exposure. This combat preference could not be explained by more severe PTSD symptoms or greater functional impairment.

CONCLUSIONS: Instead of a gender bias in awards for PTSD service connection, we found evidence of a combat advantage that disproportionately favored men. The appropriateness of this apparent advantage is unclear and needs further investigation.