Associations of Military Sexual Trauma, Combat Exposure, and Number of Deployments With Physical and Mental Health Indicators in Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans


Psychological trauma exposure (TE) is highly prevalent in veterans, and places an individual at higher risk for developing numerous physical and mental health problems with reduced functioning and lower quality of life. In this study, psychological trauma exposure (TE) is discussed in terms of two sub-categories: combat exposure (CE) and military sexual trauma (MST). This is in order to explore the relationship between CE, MST and physical and mental health conditions.


Trauma exposure (TE) and numerous deployments have been associated with negative health outcomes in veterans, many of whom have military sexual trauma (MST) and combat exposure (CE). The aim of this study was to examine the relationships between physical and mental health symptoms with MST and CE and number of deployments. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans at the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System completed self-report measures for MST, CE, number of deployments, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, depression symptoms, alcohol use, somatic symptoms, health functioning, and body mass index (BMI). Regression analyses examined main and interaction effects of CE and MST and the linear and quadratic trends of number of deployments. MST and CE were associated with higher somatic, PTSD, and depression symptoms and with lower mental health functioning (ps < .001 to .002). CE was associated with lower physical health functioning and higher alcohol use (ps < .001 to .025). Number of deployments was linearly related to higher BMI (p = .004) and had a quadratic association with alcohol use (p = .008). Findings highlight the relationship between TE and poor health outcomes and the need to further study the mechanisms of TE on physical and mental health.

Full Reference

Godfrey KM, Mostoufi S, Rodgers C, Backhaus A, Floto E, Pittman J, Afari N. Associations of military sexual trauma, combat exposure, and number of deployments with physical and mental health indicators in Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Psychol Serv. 2015 Nov; 12(4): 366-77.