Mental Health Effects of Women’s Vietnam Service

Military woman saluting in front of flagsCareer military women who were deployed to Vietnam report greater happiness than women in the general population, according to a study published in the journal Social Science & Medicine – Population Health.

Are Career Military Women Healthier?

The study followed 1,285 women who served in Vietnam and then responded to a mail questionnaire approximately 25 years later. They were asked to reflect upon their experiences in Vietnam and describe their health histories. Researchers compared civilian women who served in Vietnam—most commonly as American Red Cross workers—to career military women. They adjusted for factors such as working conditions, sexual harassment, length of service, and demographics to reduce the influence of these factors.

Career military women were more likely (48%) to report being “very happy” than women in the general population (38%). Civilians who served in Vietnam reported better mental health than other groups. Women who served in Vietnam in any role were less likely than women in the general population to marry or have children.

Women with military service of less than 10 years were more likely than civilian women and those with long-term military careers to report their Vietnam service as “highly stressful.” They often cited poor working and living conditions, sexual harassment, rape, physical dangers, and substance abuse as significant sources of stress.

Major predictors of mental health issues such as posttraumatic stress (PTSD) were demographic factors, war zone experiences, and homecoming experiences rather than length or type of service.

Mental Health Risk Factors Associated with Military Service

Women in the military experience many mental health risk factors. A 2015 study found PTSD rates are similar between men and women in the military. However, women seeking benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are much more likely than men to have been sexually assaulted (71% of women compared to 4% of men). Another study found 2 in 5 military women reported sexual assault or harassment, compared to about 1 in 5 in the general population.


Kaiser, A. P., Kabat, D. H., Spiro, A., III, Davison, E. H., & Stellman, J. M. (2017). Women at war: The crucible of Vietnam. Social Science & Medicine—Population Health.

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  • JC


    March 7th, 2017 at 2:25 PM

    This one was a little shocking to read given how many veterans usually have horror stories of their deployment times. I am glad to see that not all groups have these same reports, but it does make me curious about what was different in their experiences that could cause such differentials?

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