The primary objective was to compare the evoked K-complex response to salient versus non-salient auditory stimuli in combat-exposed Vietnam veterans with and without post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Three categories of auditory stimuli (standard 1000 Hz tones, trauma-related combat sounds, and affectively neutral environmental sounds) were presented during stage 2 sleep utilizing an oddball paradigm with probabilities of occurrence of 60%, 20% and 20% respectively. Twenty-four combat-exposed Vietnam veterans, 14 with PTSD and 10 without PTSD were studied in a sleep laboratory at the National Center for PTSD in Menlo Park, CA. While significantly fewer K-complexes overall were elicited in patients, there were no differences in the proportion of K-complexes elicited by tones and combat stimuli within either group. Patients produced significantly more K-complexes to neutral stimuli than to tone or combat stimuli. Examination of the N550 component of the evoked K-complex revealed significantly longer latencies in the patient group. Across the entire sample, N550 latencies were longer for combat stimuli relative to tone neutral stimuli. There were no group or stimulus category differences for N550 amplitude. The results suggest that salient information, as defined by trauma-related combat sounds, did not preferentially elicit K-complexes in either the PTSD group or the control group, suggesting that K-complexes function to protect sleep more than to endogenously process meaningful stimuli.