Cohort Differences in PTSD Symptoms and Military Experiences: A Life Course Perspective

2024  Journal Article

Cohort Differences in PTSD Symptoms and Military Experiences: A Life Course Perspective


This study's findings underscore the importance of considering individual characteristics such as race, ethnicity, and income level, as well as personal appraisals of military service and the availability of social support, in understanding and treating PTSD among veterans.

By adopting a life course perspective, the study suggests that interventions should be tailored to the individual experiences of veterans rather than focusing solely on the context of the war zone served.

DOI: 10.1093/geront/gnad129    PubMed ID: 38198657

College of Health researcher(s)


Background and Objectives

There have been major changes in military service over the past 50 years. Most research on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among combat Veterans comes from help-seeking Vietnam and WWII cohorts; results from more recent cohort comparisons are mixed. The present study addressed these gaps by exploring cohort differences among Vietnam, Persian Gulf, and Post-9/11 combat Veterans from a life course perspective.

Research Design and Methods

We recruited community-dwelling combat and war zone Veterans (N = 167), primarily from Veterans’ associations in Oregon from three cohorts: Vietnam, Persian Gulf, and Post-911. Online surveys assessed current PTSD symptoms, life course (demographics and cohort membership), and experiential variables (combat severity, appraisals of military service, homecoming, and social support).


Cohorts were comparable in demographics and war experiences. Step one of a hierarchical regression found that PTSD symptoms were higher among Veterans of color and those with lower incomes, R2 = 0.37, p < .001. When cohort was added, Vietnam Veterans had higher symptoms than Post-9/11; income and race/ethnicity remained significant, ΔR2 = 0.01, p = .13. The final model added experiential variables, ΔR2 = 0.38, p < .001; cohort and income were no longer significant, although Veterans of color still reported higher symptoms. Those with more undesirable service appraisals and who sought social support had higher symptoms, while desirable appraisals were protective.

Discussion and Implications

From a life course perspective, the particular war zone that Veterans served in was less important than demographics and both service and postservice experiences, suggesting generalizability of risk and protective factors, as well as treatment modalities, across cohorts.

Kurth, M.L., Witzel, D.D., Segerstrom, S.C., Choun, S., Aldwin, C.M.(2024)Cohort Differences in PTSD Symptoms and Military Experiences: A Life Course PerspectiveThe Gerontologist64(2)