Sex Differences in Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders and Treatment Entry Among Justice-involved Veterans in the Veterans Health Administration

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Abstract

Background:

Over half of veterans in the criminal justice system have mental health or substance use disorders. However, there is a critical lack of information about female veterans in the criminal justice system and how diagnosis prevalence and treatment entry differ by sex.

Objectives:

To document prevalence of mental health and substance use disorder diagnoses and treatment entry rates among female veterans compared with male veterans in the justice system.

Research Design:

Retrospective cohort study using national Veterans Health Administration clinical/administrative data from veterans seen by Veterans Justice Outreach Specialists in fiscal years 2010–2012.

Subjects:

A total of 1535 females and 30,478 male veterans were included.

Measures:

Demographic characteristics (eg, sex, age, residence, homeless status), mental health disorders (eg, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder), substance use disorders (eg, alcohol and opioid use disorders), and treatment entry (eg, outpatient, residential, pharmacotherapy).

Results:

Among female veterans, prevalence of mental health and substance use disorders was 88% and 58%, respectively, compared with 76% and 72% among male veterans. Women had higher odds of being diagnosed with a mental health disorder [adjusted odds ratio (AOR)=1.98; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.68–2.34] and lower odds of being diagnosed with a substance use disorder (AOR=0.50; 95% CI, 0.45–0.56) compared with men. Women had lower odds of entering mental health residential treatment (AOR=0.69; 95% CI, 0.57–0.83).

Conclusions:

Female veterans involved in the justice system have a high burden of mental health disorders (88%) and more than half have substance use disorders (58%). Entry to mental health residential treatment for women is an important quality improvement target.

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