Nearly 15 percent of female US veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan experienced sexual trauma during their military service, the Department of Veterans Affairs said in a study.
The study, based on data from 100,000 veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom who used VA health care, found that more than one in seven women reported having experienced "military sexual trauma".
The study, covering a six year period, also found that 0.7 percent of men returning from duty reported military sexual trauma.
Individuals, both female and male, who experienced sexual trauma in the service had a greater probability of being diagnosed with a mental illness upon return than those who did not report such trauma, researchers found.
The trauma, ranging from repeated sexual advances and intimidation to rape, can lead to depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and a propensity for drug abuse, according to the study.
"These data highlight the importance of the VA's universal screening policy as well as early intervention among veterans who have experienced sexual trauma," said VA researcher Joanne Pavao of the study, which was presented at the American Public Health Association's 136th Annual Meeting & Exposition in San Diego.
VA policy "requires that all male and female veterans are screened for experiences of military sexual trauma and that free treatment for MST-related conditions is provided at all VA health care facilities," Pavao said.