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Effects of Combat on Returning Female Veterans Focus of Fippinger Grant

Posted Nov 13 2009 10:01pm

Do female combat veterans have more problems adjusting to civilian life than males? In one of the first studies of its kind, Women’s Health Research at Yale will launch a collaborative study to identify gender differences among returning soldiers.

Of the two million Americans who have fought in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001, some 220,000 have been women, and many of these women have been in combat. In fact, this is the largest cadre of U.S. military women exposed to combat to date.

Women’s Health Research at Yale is undertaking its study of gender differences among veterans in collaboration with the Northeast Program Evaluation Center (NEPEC) of the Veterans Administration.

The pilot study is being funded by a grant from the Grace J. Fippinger Foundation. The principal investigator on this study, Rani Desai, is associate professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine and is on the staff at NEPEC, where she is the director in charge of evaluating post-traumatic stress disorder treatment programs in the Veterans Administration nationwide.

Desai will work with Carolyn M. Mazure, professor of psychiatry and psychology, and director of Women’s Health Research at Yale, and Sherry McKee, associate professor of psychiatry. The research program’s Women and Trauma Core, which previously has partnered with NEPEC to examine gender differences in male and female veterans in treatment for PTSD, will collaborate on the pilot study.

Although there is no evidence that women perform any differently than men in combat arenas, it is not known whether women and men differ in their experiences upon returning to civilian life.

There has been concern that women military veterans are more susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder than men, given similar experiences. There also has been some concern that the trauma women experience in combat may be compounded because women on average enter the military having had more civilian trauma than men and may suffer trauma at the hands of their comrades more than male veterans. However, none of this speculation has been investigated with empirical studies; this is what the researchers aim to accomplish with the pilot study and a future, wider investigation.

Women’s Health Research at Yale was founded in 1998 to address disparities in medical research by initiating and nurturing groundbreaking studies of the health of women and gender-specific aspects of health and disease. The program has since grown into one of the largest interdisciplinary research centers of its kind in the country—and has become a national model.

For more information on Women’s Health Research at Yale, visit www.yalewhr.org.


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