Adverse Childhood Experiences Common in Vets

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Negative experiences as a child can scar someone for life. For example, some people who were abused in their youth end up being violent in adulthood. Researchers recently sought to find out whether having adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) may have contributed to veterans enrolling in the military, given that service is one way to escape a bad household environment.

John R. Blosnich, PhD, MPH, with the Department of Psychiatry, University of Rochester, New York, led a team of researchers from the university and the Department of Veterans Affairs to compare the prevalence of ACEs in those with and without military experience. Phone interviews with more than 60,000 individuals looked at whether they had suffered any one or more of 11 negative experiences prior to turning 18.

Those with military experience had greater odds of any difference in prevalence of ACEs, according to results published in JAMA Psychiatry. However, the higher likelihood was seen in those who served during the all-volunteer era.  During that time, men with military service had twice the odds of reporting forced sex before the age of 18 years (odds ratio, 2.19; 95% CI, 1.34-3.57) compared with men without military service.

In the draft era, the only difference among men was household drug use -- men with a history of military service had significantly less than men who weren’t in the military (2.1% vs. 3.3%; P = .003). Fewer differences were observed among women in the all-volunteer and draft eras.

“Differences in ACEs by era and sex lend preliminary support that enlistment may serve as an escape from adversity for some individuals, at least among men,” the researchers concluded. “Further research is needed to understand how best to support service members and veterans who may have experienced ACEs.”


Veterans More Likely to Have Had Adverse Childhood Experiences
Veterans More Likely to Have Had Adverse Childhood Experiences

The prevalence of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) among U.S. military members and veterans is largely unknown. ACEs can result in severe adult health consequences such as posttraumatic stress disorder, substance use and attempted suicide.

Authors compared the prevalence of ACEs among individuals with and without a history of military service using data from a behavioral risk surveillance system, along with telephone interviews, for an analytic sample of more than 60,000 people.

ACEs in 11 categories were examined, including living with someone who is mentally ill, alcoholic or incarcerated, as well as witnessing partner violence, being physically abused, touched sexually or forced to have sex. Authors considered military service during the all-volunteer era (since 1973) vs. the draft era.

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