Document Type




Combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be a difficult condition to treat and has been associated with serious medical and economic issues among U.S. military veterans. Distinguishing between treatment responders vs. non-responders in this population has become an important public health priority. This study was conducted to identify pre-treatment characteristics of U.S. veterans with combat-related PTSD that might contribute to favorable and unfavorable responses to high value treatments for this condition.


This study focused on 805 patients who completed a VHA PTSD residential program between 2000 and 2007. These patients completed the PTSD Clinical Checklist at pre-treatment, post-treatment, and a four-month follow-up assessment. Latent growth curve analysis (LCGA) was incorporated to determine trajectories of changes in PTSD across these assessments and whether several key clinical concerns for this population were associated with their treatment responses.

Study Findings

LCGA indicated three distinct trajectories in PTSD outcomes and identified several clinical factors that were prospectively linked with changes in veterans' posttraumatic symptomatology. When compared to a group with high PTSD symptom severity that decreased over the program but relapsed at follow-up (41%), the near half (48.8%) of the sample with an improving trajectory had less combat exposure and superior physical/mental health. However, when compared to a minority (10.2%) with relatively low symptomatology that also remained somewhat stable, patients in the improving group were younger and also reported greater combat exposure, poorer physical/mental health status, and more problems with substance abuse before the start of treatment.


Findings suggest that veterans are most likely to benefit from residential treatment in an intermediate range of symptoms and risk factors, including PTSD symptom severity, history of combat exposure, and comorbid issues with physical/mental health. Addressing these factors in an integrative manner could help to optimize the effectiveness of treatments of combat-related PTSD in many cases.


Behavioral Disciplines and Activities | Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms | Medicine and Health Sciences | Psychiatry and Psychology | Psychological Phenomena and Processes


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