[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Women currently constitute 15% of active United States of America military service personnel, and this proportion is expected to double in the next 5 years. Previous research has shown that healthcare utilization and costs differ in women US Veterans Health Administration (VA) patients compared to men. However, none have accounted for the potential effects of clustering on their estimates of healthcare utilization. US Women Veterans are more likely to serve in specific military branches (e.g. Army), components (e.g. National Guard), and ranks (e.g. officer) than men. These factors may confer different risk and protection that can affect subsequent healthcare needs. Our study investigates the effects of accounting for the hierarchical structure of data on estimates of the association between gender and VA healthcare utilization. The sample consisted of data on 406,406 Veterans obtained from VA's Operation Enduring Freedom/ Operation Iraqi Freedom roster provided by Defense Manpower Data Center — Contingency Tracking System Deployment File. We compared three statistical models, ordinary, fixed and random effects hierarchical logistic regression, in order to assess the association of gender with healthcare utilization, controlling for branch of service, component, rank, age, race, and marital status. Gender was associated with utilization in ordinary logistic and, but not in fixed effects hierarchical logistic or random effects hierarchical logistic regression models. This points out that incomplete inference could be drawn by ignoring the military structure that may influence combat exposure and subsequent healthcare needs. Researchers should consider modeling VA data using methods that account for the potential clustering effect of hierarchy.
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