The relationship between age and psychological symptoms in OEF/OIF combat veterans
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A substantial number of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) veterans are returning with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, substance abuse disorders and other deployment and combat related problems. Prevalence rates have differed in prior research and certain demographic variables have been shown to be associated with severity of symptoms. The purpose of this study was to examine the association between age and psychological symptoms among OEF/OIF veterans. While previous research has examined the association between age and psychological symptoms, the findings have been mixed, and age has not been examined specifically in this population as a risk or protective factor. Data were collected from participants across five VA medical centers in upstate New York ( N =500) as part of a larger study examining the effects of traumatic brain injury on OEF/OIF veterans. Results indicate a high level of psychological distress among OEF/OIF veterans (68.6% met criteria for depression, 57.4% for generalized anxiety disorder, 46.0% for PTSD, 55.8% screened positive for possible problematic drinking). Younger veterans were significantly more likely to meet criteria for PTSD, have more combat exposure, meet criteria for generalized anxiety disorder, and have a higher likelihood of problematic drinking. Scores on mental health measures were all significantly negatively correlated with age. Results of this study highlight the need for increased efforts to engage younger veterans in treatment, as well as, examine age group membership as a risk factor in psychological health in combat veterans.