Emergence of Probable PTSD Among U.S. Veterans Over the Military-to-Civilian Transition

Laurel A. Copeland, Erin P. Finley, Miriam L. Rubin, Daniel F. Perkins, Dawne S. Vogt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Objective: Despite theorizing that posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptomatology may be exacerbated during the military-to-civilian transition, little research has delved into the trajectory of trauma-related symptomatology or the impact of diverse factors on timing of PTSD onset. To understand risk and protective factors for PTSD during the transition into civilian life, this study examined demographic, experiential, and psychosocial characteristics that may explain variation in PTSD symptoms and timing of onset. Method: A nationwide sample representing 48,965 U.S. veterans separating from military service in fall 2016 responded to six Web-based surveys over 3 years. Assessments included PTSD symptoms, stress, warfare exposures, military sexual trauma, moral injury events, resilience, and social support. Multivariable models estimated covariates of positive PTSD screen or symptoms. Results: Trauma exposure during military service was high at 59%. Probable PTSD was detected in 26% of the sample at baseline, with additional cases in each survey wave for an overall rate of 30%. Meeting criteria for probable PTSD covaried with current stress, female gender, and minority race/ethnicity; baseline psychological resilience and concurrent social support mitigated the risk. PTSD symptoms correlated positively with stress levels at current and previous time points. Social support was protective but only when contemporaneous with the PTSD symptoms. Conclusions: This study illustrates the need for ongoing social support for veterans coping with symptoms of PTSD, life stressors, and postmilitary trauma, suggesting a countervailing influence of psychological resilience and contemporaneous (but not historical) social support on symptom exacerbation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)697-704
Number of pages8
JournalPsychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 4 2022


  • life experiences
  • posttraumatic stress disorder
  • signs and symptoms
  • social support
  • veterans

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Social Psychology


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