Abstract: Examining Age Cohort Differences in Resilience, Social Support and Trauma Response Among Older Adult Veterans (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Examining Age Cohort Differences in Resilience, Social Support and Trauma Response Among Older Adult Veterans

Friday, January 13, 2023
Valley of the Sun A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Mark D. Olson, PhD, Associate Professor, Illinois State University, Normal, IL
Background and Purpose: The total veteran population in the U.S. is estimated to be 19.5 million, with over 6 million veterans having served during the Vietnam Era. Vietnam veterans make up one of the largest veteran cohorts and as this population ages their unique history presents distinct challenges. Research indicates that Vietnam veterans may be more likely to experience PTSD, and the effects of previous trauma may be exacerbated by the challenges of aging. This study examined the linkages among posttraumatic stress, social support and engagement, and psychological hardiness in veterans of the Vietnam war. Examining differences among age cohorts, the research explored how social and psychological factors affect posttraumatic reactions as veterans age using longitudinal data to compare participant responses over time.

Methods: Data for the study was obtained from the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study (NVVRS; N = 2,348) and the National Vietnam Veterans Longitudinal Study (NVVLS; N = 1,450), made up of a nationally representative, stratified sample of veterans from the Vietnam era. NVVLS respondents consisted of veterans who participated in the first wave of surveys in 1988. Survey instrumentation included standardized measures of posttraumatic stress and psychological hardiness. Participants also reported perceptions of instrumental and emotional support, and social engagement. To examine differences among age groups, respondent data was delineated according to previously defined categories of older adulthood, from middle-aged to oldest-old.

Results: Findings revealed significant differences by age group, with lower levels of life satisfaction and higher levels of trauma symptoms observed among the youngest age cohort. Pearson correlational analysis revealed an inverse relationship between age and PTSD symptoms, with scores on measures of posttraumatic stress decreasing as participants’ age increased. Using the Kruskal Wallis H test to examine variances in PTSD scores by age group, statistically significant differences were observed with the youngest participants showing the highest mean rank scores. Variables of psychological hardiness, social engagement and perceptions of support were correlated with age and were also found to be significantly lower in the youngest veteran group. Regression analysis revealed that the combination of age, social engagement, perceived support, and hardiness significantly predicted PTSD symptoms. Hierarchical regressions showed that perceptions of support and psychological hardiness were found to be the strongest predictors of trauma symptoms.

Conclusions and Implications: Data from both survey waves reflected the overall resiliency of Vietnam veterans, with the majority of participants indicating no significant problems with posttraumatic stress. However, results showed a significant difference in levels of PTSD between the two survey periods, with a decrease in the number of respondents identified as experiencing posttraumatic stress in the second survey wave. Findings regarding the differences among age groups provide insight into the course of trauma as veterans enter later life and help elucidate factors of risk and protection.