Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

For Many Female Vets, PTSD Tied to Sex Trauma

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

For Many Female Vets, PTSD Tied to Sex Trauma

Article excerpt

ALBUQUERQUE -- Sexual trauma is the primary cause of posttraumatic stress disorder in female veterans, according to a psychologist who provides care at a trauma clinic for female veterans in New Mexico.

Diane T. Castillo, Ph.D., estimates that 80%-90% of female veterans who walk into the Women's Trauma Clinic with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) had suffered sexual trauma before, during, and/or after their military service. Most PTSD in male veterans is entirely combat related, but that is the case for only about 8% of cases in female veterans, she says. She calculates that about 70% of female PTSD patients have only sexual traumas but adds that some women veterans have suffered sexual and combat traumas.

Dr. Castillo, coordinator of the Women's Stress Disorder Treatment Team in the Albuquerque-based New Mexico Veterans Affairs Health Care System, gave an overview of experiences from her clinic at a psychiatric symposium sponsored by the University of New Mexico.

She said the prevalence of sexual trauma in female PTSD patients varies among veterans' centers, but that it is higher overall than is the prevalence found in the general population. PTSD prevalence among female veterans, she added, has inched up from about 8% during the Persian Gulf War to close to 9%.

Dr. Castillo presented a complex portrait of the traumas experienced by her patients, augmenting her talk with a videotape, "Women Who Served in Our Military: Insights for Interventions," which was produced by the Veterans Affairs' National Center for PTSD and narrated by television journalist Jane Pauley.

The traumas discussed during the symposium ranged from a sexual assault by two male noncommissioned officers who were never prosecuted to the persistent sexual harassment of women while on duty in Iraq and in the Persian Gulf War. Many but not all women soldiers were in sexually threatening circumstances, Dr. Castillo said, telling of the exception: a reserve unit from Las Vegas, N.M., whose members, male and female, had served together for many years and looked out for one another like extended family in Iraq.

Preliminary data from an ongoing research project in her center suggest anger is a common manifestation of PTSD in women veterans, Dr. …

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