Depression in veterans of the first gulf war and comparable military controls

Donald W. Black, Caroline P. Carney, Valerie L. Forman-Hoffman, Elena Letuchy, Paul Peloso, Robert F. Woolson, Bradley N. Doebbeling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Depression is a common mental disorder associated with poor health outcomes. The purpose of this study is to examine the prevalence of depression, mental health comorbidity, illness variables, and quality of life in a sample of military veterans serving during the first Gulf War. The Iowa Gulf War Case Validation Study involved face-to-face evaluations in 1999-2002 of 602 military personnel-either deployed ("deployed veterans") or eligible but not deployed ("non-deployed veterans") to the Gulf. Subjects were sampled by conducting a series of case-control studies nested within a population-based survey of 4,886 military personnel. All subjects were interviewed using the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV (SCID-IV), and a series of semi-structured interviews and validated questionnaires. Best estimate psychiatric diagnoses were assigned based on all available data. One-hundred-ninety-two (32%) of the 602 surveyed veterans met criteria for a current or lifetime depressive disorder (major depression, dysthymia, depressive disorder-not otherwise specified). Depressed non-deployed veterans were more likely to be female and to have served in the Air Force than depressed deployed veterans. There were few significant differences between the depressed deployed veterans and the depressed non-deployed veterans. Depressed deployed veterans had significantly higher lifetime rates of comorbid cognitive dysfunction (55% vs. 35%), and anxiety disorders (59% vs. 33%)-mainly accounted for by specific phobias (12% vs. 2%) and posttraumatic stress disorder (33% vs. 101%)-than did depressed non-deployed veterans. Lifetime substance use disorders were significantly more frequent in deployed veterans than non-deployed veterans (70% vs. 52%), particularly alcohol disorders (68% vs. 52%). There were no differences in rates of personality characteristics, family psychiatric history, stressors, hypochondriasis, and level of functioning between the two study groups showed no significant differences. Depressive illness is frequent in military samples, as it is in the general population. The prevalence, pattern of comorbidity, and illness features were similar in deployed veterans and non-deployed veterans, suggesting that the depression suffered by both groups of veterans is qualitatively comparable. The main difference between study groups was that depressed deployed veterans had higher rates than depressed non-deployed veterans of comorbid anxiety disorders, hypothesized to be part of the stress-related syndromes seen in those who experience combat.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)53-61
Number of pages9
JournalAnnals of Clinical Psychiatry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Comorbidity
  • Depression
  • Gulf War
  • Veterans

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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