The impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and combat exposure on mental health conditions among new post-9/11 veterans

Keith R. Aronson, Daniel F. Perkins, Nicole R. Morgan, Julia A. Bleser, Dawne Vogt, Laurel A. Copeland, Erin P. Finley, Cynthia L. Gilman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Objective: Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are early life experiences of abuse and neglect, and observed violence, among others. For military veterans, both ACEs and combat exposure are associated with mental health problems. Method: This study examines the relationship between ACEs and combat exposure on the current mental health in a large sample of recent post-9/11 U.S. veterans. Results: Fifty-nine percent of female and 39% of male veterans reported exposure to 1 ACE, whereas 44% of female and 25% of male veterans were exposed to multiple ACEs. Female veterans were more likely to experience 4 or more ACEs. ACEs were more consistently associated with mental health problems for male veterans than their female peers. For female veterans, exposure to 1 or 2 ACEs did not increase the odds of having any mental health condition, whereas for males, this level of exposure was associated with probable PTSD and anxiety. Combat patrol events were associated with an increase in the likelihood of having a probable mental health problem, with 2 exceptions-combat patrol events were not associated with depression in male veterans and not associated with alcohol misuse in female veterans. Combat was not associated with alcohol misuse. Experiencing a corollary of combat (e.g., accidents, moral injury) was inconsistently associated with the odds of having a probable mental health problem. Conclusions: This study confirms prior studies demonstrating a relationship between ACEs and combat on subsequent mental health problems. Importantly, 2 different types of combat exposure had differential effects on mental health problems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)698-706
Number of pages9
JournalPsychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)
  • Anxiety
  • Combat exposure
  • PTSD
  • Veterans

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology


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