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Trauma and Substance Use Disorders in Rural and Urban Veterans


  • The authors would like to thank the VHA staff and veterans who made this study possible. We would also like to thank Dr. Dennis McChargue for his thoughtful review of the manuscript, Dr. Terry North for her assistance with research staff training, and Carrie Barton and Brooke Wagner for their assistance with manuscript preparation. This study was funded by the Creighton University School of Medicine Medical Dean's Research Fund. For further information, contact: Kathleen M. Grant, MD, 116A4, Omaha VA Medical Center, 4101 Woolworth Ave., Omaha, NE 68105; e-mail


Context: Disparities in the prevalence, morbidity, and mortality of multiple mental health conditions have been described between rural and urban populations. However, there is limited information regarding differences in exposure to trauma and trauma-related mental health conditions in these populations. Given the number of veterans who are returning to rural communities after serving in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, differences in trauma exposure are of particular relevance. Trauma exposure is related to a variety of mental health disorders including substance use disorders (SUD).

Purpose: The objectives of this preliminary study were to describe lifetime military and nonmilitary trauma and to compare trauma history between rural and urban veterans in SUD treatment.

Methods: Sixty adults in SUD treatment were enrolled at 3 Veterans Health Administration sites in Nebraska over a 3-month period in 2008. Subjects completed an interview with study staff, which assessed SUD diagnoses and childhood, lifetime, and military trauma. Rural or urban status was determined by self-report of childhood residence. Childhood trauma, lifetime trauma, and response to military trauma were compared between rural and urban veterans.

Findings: Although there were no significant differences in trauma exposure between rural and urban groups, there was an association between specific types of trauma and measures typically associated with increased substance abuse severity and poorer SUD treatment outcome.

Conclusion: This is the first study, to our knowledge, which compared trauma exposure between rural and urban veterans and identified an association between childhood trauma exposure and multiple SUD treatment attempts.

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