VA Palo Alto Study Finds Higher Postmenopausal Mortality Risk in Women Veterans

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A new study from investigators at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System (VAPAHCS) suggests that women Veterans may have higher postmenopausal risk for mortality than their non-Veteran peers.

This study helps to increase the visibility of this “greatest generation” of women Veterans....

A new study from investigators at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System (VAPAHCS) suggests that women Veterans may have higher postmenopausal risk for mortality than their non-Veteran peers. Findings from the study, which characterized the postmenopausal health and mortality risk of 3,706 women Veterans who participated in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI)--relative to their non-Veteran counterparts in WHI-- offer several important implications for clinical health care practice and policy pertinent to women Veterans, and mark one of the first large scale efforts to investigate heath and mortality risks among postmenopausal women Veterans.

“The Women’s Health Initiative offered an unprecedented opportunity to characterize postmenopausal health in a large, nationally recruited group of women Veterans, and to evaluate their health and mortality risk relative to their non-Veteran peers. The fact that the women Veteran participants are age consistent with eligibility for military service prior to the Vietnam War, makes this resource particularly valuable, as women Veterans who served in World War 2 and the Korean War have received very limited research attention to date,” said Julie C. Weitlauf, Ph.D., lead author of the report. “This study helps to increase the visibility of this “greatest generation” of women Veterans and is an important first step in filling a critical gap in our understanding of their postmenopausal health and health care needs.”

The manuscript, entitled Prospective Analysis of Health and Mortality Risk in Veteran and Non-Veteran Participants in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), underscores the salience of military service as a factor in determining women’s life-long health. This is one of the very few research papers that features prospective, longitudinal analysis of women Veteran’s post-menopausal mortality risk, particularly among women who are age consistent with military service prior to the Vietnam war (e.g., WWII).

Findings also underscore the importance of efforts to identify and address modifiable health and mortality risk factors among women Veterans, and show the need for further study related to cancer risk and bone health/fracture risk in this population.

The Women’s Health Initiative is among the biggest, most heavily funded, and most comprehensive research programs to investigate women’s postmenopausal health in history. The WHI included three clinical trials and an observational study. More than 160,000 participated in the clinical trials and observational studies of the WHI, of which nearly 4,000 were Veterans.

Despite the fact that approximately 1,000 manuscripts have been published using data from the WHI, this paper is the first to characterize the cohort of women Veterans and to compare their post-menopausal risk for morbidity and mortality to their non-Veteran counterparts within WHI.

Lead author Julie C. Weitlauf, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and director of the Women’s Mental Health and Aging Core of the VISN 21 Mental Illness, Research, Education and Clinical Centers at VAPAHCS. She is also a clinical associate professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine. The study includes several authors with key collaborator Marcia L. Stefanick, Ph.D. of Stanford University School of Medicine.

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