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Impact of the Northridge Earthquake on the Mental Health of Veterans: Results From a Panel Study

  • Aram Dobalian, Judith A. Stein, Kevin C. Heslin, Deborah Riopelle, Brinda Venkatesh, Andrew B. Lanto, Barbara Simon, Elizabeth M. Yano and Lisa V. Rubenstein...


Objective: The 1994 earthquake that struck Northridge, California, led to the closure of the Veterans Health Administration Medical Center at Sepulveda. This article examines the earthquake's impact on the mental health of an existing cohort of veterans who had previously used the Sepulveda Veterans Health Administration Medical Center.

Methods: From 1 to 3 months after the disaster, trained interviewers made repeated attempts to contact participants by telephone to administer a repeated measures follow-up design survey based on a survey that had been done preearthquake. Postearthquake data were obtained on 1144 of 1800 (64%) male veterans for whom there were previous data. We tested a predictive latent variable path model of the relations between sociodemographic characteristics, predisaster physical and emotional health measures, and postdisaster emotional health and perceived earthquake impact.

Results: Perceived earthquake impact was predicted by predisaster emotional distress, functional limitations, and number of health conditions. Postdisaster emotional distress was predicted by preexisting emotional distress and earthquake impact. The regression coefficient from earthquake impact to postearthquake emotional distress was larger than that of the stability coefficient from preearthquake emotional distress. Postearthquake emotional distress also was affected indirectly by preearthquake emotional distress, health conditions, younger age, and lower socioeconomic status.

Conclusions: The postdisaster emotional health of veterans who experienced greater earthquake impact would have likely benefited from postdisaster intervention, regardless of their predisaster emotional health. Younger veterans and veterans with generally poor physical and emotional health were more vulnerable to greater postearthquake emotional distress. Veterans of lower socioeconomic status were disproportionately likely to experience more effects of the disaster because they had more predisaster emotional distress, more functional limitations, and a greater number of health conditions. Because many veterans use non–Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care providers for at least some of their health needs, future disaster planning for both VA and non-VA providers should incorporate interventions targeted at these groups.

(Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2011;5:S220-S226)


Corresponding author

Correspondence: Address correspondence and reprint requests to Aram Dobalian, PhD, JD, VHA Emergency Management Evaluation Center, 16111 Plummer St, MS-152, North Hills, CA 91343 (e-mail:


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Impact of the Northridge Earthquake on the Mental Health of Veterans: Results From a Panel Study

  • Aram Dobalian, Judith A. Stein, Kevin C. Heslin, Deborah Riopelle, Brinda Venkatesh, Andrew B. Lanto, Barbara Simon, Elizabeth M. Yano and Lisa V. Rubenstein...


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