Male veterans receiving Veterans Health Administration (VA) care have worse health than men in the general population. Less is known about health status in women veteran VA patients, a rapidly growing population.
To characterize health status of women (vs men) veteran VA patients across age cohorts, and assess gender differences in the effect of social support upon health status.
DESIGN AND PATIENTS
Data came from the national 1999 Large Health Survey of Veteran Enrollees (response rate 63%) and included 28,048 women and 651,811 men who used VA in the prior 3 years.
Dimensions of health status from validated Veterans Short Form-36 instrument; social support (married, living arrangement, have someone to take patient to the doctor).
In each age stratum (18 to 44, 45 to 64, and ≥65 years), Physical Component Summary (PCS) and Mental Component Summary (MCS) scores were clinically comparable by gender, except that for those aged ≥65, mean MCS was better for women than men (49.3 vs 45.9, P<.001). Patient gender had a clinically insignificant effect upon PCS and MCS after adjusting for age, race/ethnicity, and education. Women had lower levels of social support than men; in patients aged <65, being married or living with someone benefited MCS more in men than in women.
Women veteran VA patients have as heavy a burden of physical and mental illness as do men in VA, and are expected to require comparable intensity of health care services. Their ill health occurs in the context of poor social support, and varies by age.