Women’s Veteran Identity and Utilization of VA Health Services

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Abstract

Women have participated in the United States military since its founding. However, until the mid-20th century, there had been limited recognition of women as official members of the military, and women remain a statistical minority within military and veteran populations. It is therefore important to better understand women’s veteran identity (which we define here as one’s self-concept as derived from their veteran status) and associated implications for service use and experiences in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care setting. The present research examined the centrality of, and positive regard for, women’s veteran identity among 407 female veterans deployed in support of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Data were collected via a mailed national survey. Positive regard for veteran identity, but not veteran identity centrality, was positively associated with participants’ age and length of time spent in the military. Results also showed that the centrality of women’s veteran identity was positively related to their choice to use VA for health care and their feelings of belonging within VA, and that veteran identity centrality and positive regard for veteran identity are differentially associated with participants’ military experiences (e.g., combat exposure, deployment sexual harassment) and mental health symptomatology (e.g., depression).

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