Published September 19, 2017
UB sociologist Brenda Moore says the U.S. military can be a great health equalizer for its active duty members. The armed forces evaluates potential members with the same instruments, and service members all have equal access to health care.
Yet the health balance that exists for African-American male and white male active duty members begins to dramatically tilt upon discharge, according to Moore, a military sociologist who was recently appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs to serve on a newly formed committee on how to best administer health care to veterans living in rural areas.
“There is a difference in the health of African-American male veterans compared to white male veterans that wasn’t there when these veterans were active duty,” says Moore, an associate professor in the Department of Sociology. “And it’s a significant difference.”
The question of why and how such a racial health disparity would develop in veterans for two groups that had similar baseline physical health levels when entering the military are questions Moore will explore during her session at this year’s Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference, being held Sept. 20-24 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.
“In the general population, African-Americans live shorter lives and have poorer health than whites, but it’s puzzling in the context of the military. Why are we seeing this in veterans when everyone, in order to join the military, is screened and takes the same qualifying tests and physical examinations?”
The reason for those disparities is partially explained by differences in socioeconomic status and the specific military experiences of the individual, according to Moore, co-author of a 2015 study on these health disparities that was published in the journal Population: Research and Policy Review.
Moore’s presentation, titled “Veterans Braintrust,” scheduled to take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 22, also includes discussion on the health issues related to the increase in active duty women in the military and the accompanying expansion of their roles.
She says the panel is an initiative to think strategically about the changing demographics of the veteran population, particularly African-American and women veterans, and the scale of change necessary for providing the best care possible in the future.
Women in the military face various challenges, including having to overcome the persistent culture of masculinity in the military, Moore explains.
“The question of whether women can serve effectively in combat situations is not a big issue now. We know that they can,” she says. “We want to show the unique health issues we’re seeing in women, including post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Moore says her conference goal is to take the focused discussions she’s leading on racial- and gender-based health disparities and apply them broadly in a way that moves policy toward better means of administering health care to all veterans, a population that currently exceeds 22 million.
“I know we can help the larger group by knowing the challenges faced by certain segments of the population,” she says.