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Daily exposure to combat-related cues and posttraumatic stress symptoms among veterans: Moderating effects of peri- and postdeployment experiences

APA Citation:

Mojallal, M., Simons, R. M., Simons, J. S., & Swaminath, S. (2024). Daily exposure to combat-related cues and posttraumatic stress symptoms among veterans: Moderating effects of peri- and postdeployment experiences. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 37(1), 57-68. https://doi.org/10.1002/jts.22991

Abstract Created by REACH:

This study examined the real-time associations between trauma-related cues (e.g., news reports, hearing fireworks) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms using experience sampling, a method involving digital data collection multiple times a day. 93 post-9/11 Veterans completed baseline surveys on combat exposure (e.g., being attacked, witnessing injury or death) and unit support during deployment as well as social support postdeployment. Next, 8 times a day for 2 weeks, Veterans were randomly prompted to report whether they had been exposed to any trauma-related cues in the last 30 minutes and their current PTSD symptoms. Overall, Veterans exposed to more trauma-related cues endorsed more PTSD symptoms. Having more unit support during deployment buffered this association.


Mental health

Branch of Service:

Multiple branches

Military Affiliation:


Subject Affiliation:



Adulthood (18 yrs & older)
Young adulthood (18 - 29 yrs)
Thirties (30 - 39 yrs)
Middle age (40 - 64 yrs)


Mojallal, Mahsa, Simons, Raluca M., Simons, Jeffrey S., Swaminath, Surabhi


One of the central symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a heightened reactivity to trauma cues. The current study used experience sampling to investigate the associations between exposure to combat-related cues and PTSD symptoms in 93 U.S. veterans who served in support of recent military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. We also examined the effects of peri- and postdeployment factors, including exposure to combat, unit support during deployment, and postdeployment social support on PTSD. Participants completed eight brief random surveys daily for 2 weeks using palmtop computers. The results indicated that more daytime exposure to trauma cues was associated with experiencing more PTSD symptoms at the within-person level, B = 3.18. At the between-person level, combat exposure, B = 4.20, was associated with more PTSD symptoms, whereas unit support, B = –0.89, was associated with experiencing fewer symptoms. At the cross-level interaction, unit support, B = –0.80, moderated the association between trauma cue exposure and PTSD symptom count. Contrary to our hypothesis, postdeployment social support, B = –0.59, was not associated with PTSD symptoms. These findings suggest a functional association between exposure to trauma cues and PTSD symptoms among recent-era U.S. veterans and underscore the importance of unit support during deployment.

Publication Type:

REACH Publication


combat-related ptsd, postdeployment experiences, veterans

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REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary

REACH Newsletter:

  March 2024

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