WASHINGTON — Department of Veterans Affairs researchers plan on completing their first-ever study focused solely on female post traumatic stress disorder by the end of the year.

But researchers hope the findings will help develop better treatment options for both men and women veterans.

The study, which began looking at patients in 2002, has monitored various PTSD treatments administered to 283 female veterans. Paula Schnurr, one of the lead researchers on the $5 million project, said the focus on women was largely driven by the fact that no such effort had been done before.

“A number of studies have shown this is more prevalent [percentage-wise] in women than it is in men,” she said. “And we’ve seen that women in the military world often have suffered some traumas before joining the military, and that can create additional problems later.”

Schnurr said the goal is to develop a set of easy-to-use therapy recommendations based on several treatment techniques already in use. About 40 percent of the women in the study are minorities, and the patients range in age from 22 to 78.

Only a handful of the participants served in Iraq and Afghanistan, although Schnurr said she expects their experiences and difficulties to mirror problems seen in other military actions.

The National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study estimated that 26 percent of women who served in Vietnam had PTSD at some point in their service, and current Defense Department estimates put its prevalence in women who served in the Gulf War between 8 and 10 percent.

Previous studies by the Veterans Affairs Department estimated that 60 percent of female veterans had experienced at least one traumatic event during military service, often sexual assault or rape in conflicts prior to the war on terror.

Mark Lerner, president of the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, said that women in all overseas conflicts are more likely to develop PTSD than their male colleagues, in large part because of the possibility of sexual victimization. But often men get more attention for those problems, simply because the total numbers of men serving and suffering are much higher than women.

But treatment of those issues, he said, is largely gender neutral.

“The important thing is not to wait until those problems manifest themselves in other ways, like problems at work or in marriage,” he said.

“I still think we wait too long in many cases to start treatment.”

Along with Schnurr, the principal investigators in the study are Dartmouth psychiatry professor Matthew Friedman and Lt. Col. Charles Engel, chief of the Deployment Health Clinical Center at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

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