New Report: Women with Military Service Report Higher Rates of Depression and Suicidal Thoughts, Despite Better Overall Health

November 02, 2017

Women who have served in the U.S. military are more likely than those who have not served  to report being in very good or excellent health despite facing higher rates of mental health challenges and chronic disease, according to the 2017 America’s Health Rankings Health of Women Who Have Served Report.

These findings stem from an analysis of 23 health measures in the newly released report from United Health Foundation in partnership with the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA). The report was developed in collaboration with an advisory group of leading public health, military and veterans’ organizations, and establishes a national baseline and holistic portrait of the health of women who have served in the U.S. Armed Services. The new report builds upon the findings from the 2016 America’s Health Rankings Health of Those Who Have Served Report.

Women Who Have Served Report Better Overall Health, but Face Higher Rates of Mental Health Challenges

Women who have served are more likely than those who have not to report being in very good or excellent health – 56.4 percent vs. 50.8 percent. Despite reporting better overall health, women who have served are more likely to face mental health challenges. For example:

  • A 16 percent higher rate of having been diagnosed with depression.
  • Nearly twice the rate of suicidal thoughts in the past year.
  • More than 50 percent higher rate of mental illness in the past year.

These differences also vary by age as well as race and ethnicity.

Women Who Have Served Have Higher Rates of Chronic Disease Challenges Than Civilian Women

Despite reporting better overall health than their civilian counterparts, women who have served have higher rates of several chronic conditions, for example:

  • Women who have served have 16 percent higher incidences of arthritis, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
  • The prevalence of chronic disease also differs by race and ethnicity. For example, Asian women who have served are about 75 percent more likely to have diabetes than their civilian counterparts (14.4 percent vs. 8.2 percent), while American Indian/Alaskan Native women who have served are nearly 30 percent less likely to have diabetes than their non-serving counterparts (10.6 percent vs. 15.1 percent).

“This report shows that women remain resilient after leaving the military, yet too many face significant health issues directly related to their time in service,” said Patty Horoho, CEO of OptumServe, UnitedHealth Group’s military health services business, and former Army Surgeon General and retired Army Lt. General. “We owe all of our brave men and women who wear or have worn the cloth of our nation our best efforts for their health, including gender-specific research. The new insights gleaned from this report demand innovations to address the unique, profound needs of women who have selflessly served.”

“We need to do all we can to help improve the health care that our brave women and men in uniform deserve,” said MOAA President and CEO Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, USAF (Ret). “The insights from this report are critical to helping influence deeper dialogue and compel action to better meet the unique health needs of uniformed service members, veterans and their families, especially women.”

This is the third time MOAA has partnered with United Health Foundation to identify specific areas to improve care for the men and women who have served, including a 2014 study on the readiness of community-based mental health care providers to care for the distinctive needs of veterans and their families, and the 2016 America’s Health Rankings report on the health of those who have served.

To read this report and additional America’s Health Rankings materials, visit   

About America’s Health Rankings and Health of Women Who Have Served Report

America’s Health Rankings, in partnership with MOAA, released the Health of Women Who Have Served Report to develop a holistic, distinctive study of the heath of women who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces compared with the health of women who have not served, by age group, and by race/ethnicity.  The report focuses on the health of women who have ever served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, either in regular military or in a National Guard or military reserve unit. Within the sample, the age distribution of women who have served and those who have not was adjusted to reflect the U.S. population and provide comparisons for the same age and demographic groups of both populations.

The report analyzes 23 health measures from publicly available data sources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) and National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). The measures include indicators of behaviors, health outcomes, clinical care, community and environment, and policy.  

The research builds on the America’s Health Rankings Health of Those Who Have Served Report released in 2016. That report examined how the health and health care experiences of both men and women who have served differ from their civilian counterparts across a wide range of key health indicators.

For more information, visit

About United Health Foundation

Through collaboration with community partners, grants and outreach efforts, United Health Foundation works to improve our health system, build a diverse and dynamic health workforce and enhance the well-being of local communities. United Health Foundation was established by UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) in 1999 as a not-for-profit, private foundation dedicated to improving health and health care. To date, United Health Foundation has committed nearly $358 million to programs and communities around the world. We invite you to learn more at

About Military Officers Association of America

MOAA is the nation's largest and most influential association of officers from the seven uniformed services. It is an independent, nonprofit, politically nonpartisan organization. MOAA is a powerful force with members from every branch of the uniformed services, including military active duty, National Guard and Reserve; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and United States Public Health Service; retired, former officers, and their families. Together we work to ensure a strong national defense and represent the interests of all uniformed service members, officer and enlisted, at every stage of their careers. Learn more at: