- Previous research on WWII veterans in their 70’s and 80’s has shown that positive and negative appraisals of military service mediate between combat exposure and PTSD symptoms in late life. This thesis extends this research in two ways, first by determining how these variables relate to functional health in later life, and second by examining Vietnam veterans, as there may be cohort differences in combat exposure and military experiences. The Veterans Aging: Longitudinal Studies in Oregon (VALOR) pilot study is a survey of three cohorts of Oregon combatant and noncombatant veterans (N = 237), 59 of whom were Vietnam combat veterans. The sample was 74.6% male with a median age of 72.5. Analyses showed a significant negative relationship between combat exposure and undesirable experiences, but an insignificant relationship between combat exposure and desirable experiences or PTSD symptoms, contrasting with previous findings. Consistent with our hypotheses, positive appraisals were significantly and negatively correlated with PTSD symptoms and functional impairment, while negative appraisals showed the opposite pattern. Further, hierarchical linear regressions showed that PTSD symptoms mediated the relationship between negative appraisals and functional impairment, suggesting that, to the extent that negative appraisals of military service are risk factors for PTSD, they may indirectly lead to poorer functional health in later life. However, positive appraisals had a direct protective effect on functional health, which was not mediated through PTSD. While our sample size was small, limiting generalizability, it did include women, who have not been involved in previous appraisal studies, and our data suggest that there may be gender differences in the relationships among these variables. Future studies with larger, more diverse samples should further explore the relationships between these variables. Nonetheless, our findings suggest that engagement in guided life review to help veterans take a more positive perspective on their military service may help maintain functional health in late life.
Key Words: appraisals of military service, PTSD symptoms, functional health, functional impairment, combat exposure, Vietnam veterans, female veterans