Causes of Excess Mortality in Veterans Treated for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder


      Published research indicates that posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is associated with increased mortality. However, causes of death among treatment-seeking patients with PTSD remain poorly characterized. The study objective was to describe causes of death among Veterans with PTSD to inform preventive interventions for this treatment population.


      A retrospective cohort study was conducted for all Veterans who initiated PTSD treatment at any Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center from fiscal year 2008 to 2013. The primary outcome was mortality within the first year after treatment initiation. In 2018, collected data were analyzed to determine leading causes of death. For the top ten causes, standardized mortality ratios (SMRs) were calculated from age- and sex-matched mortality tables of the U.S. general population.


      A total of 491,040 Veterans were identified who initiated PTSD treatment. Mean age was 48.5 (±16.0) years, 90.7% were male, and 63.5% were of white race. In the year following treatment initiation, 1.1% (5,215/491,040) died. All-cause mortality was significantly higher for Veterans with PTSD compared with the U.S. population (SMR=1.05, 95% CI=1.02, 1.08, p<0.001). Veterans with PTSD had a significant increase in mortality from suicide (SMR=2.52, 95% CI=2.24, 2.82, p<0.001), accidental injury (SMR=1.99, 95% CI=1.83, 2.16, p<0.001), and viral hepatitis (SMR=2.26, 95% CI=1.68, 2.93, p<0.001) versus the U.S. population. Of those dying from accidental injury, more than half died of poisoning (52.3%, 325/622).


      Veterans with PTSD have an elevated risk of death from suicide, accidental injury, and viral hepatitis. Preventive interventions should target these important causes of death.
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