New Study Sheds Important Light on Women Veterans
Posted by egehl on January 31, 2011
BPW Foundation applauds Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) for successfully amending a defense appropriations bill in 2009 to direct the Veteran’s Administration (VA) inspector general to examine the gender differences in the prevalence and diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury and other combat-related conditions. The study has now been released and results show that the VA needs to work harder to inform women of services available to them, and needs to better train staff to deal with the specific problems that women face in combat.
The study concludes that female military members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are more likely to be diagnosed with mental-health conditions than their male counterparts. It also found that women are much more likely to suffer from major depression and to have a harder time transitioning back to civilian life after combat service than men.
Further, the report reveals important reasons why women veterans have a harder time transitioning back to civilian life than their male counterparts, and how the VA can tear down the obstacles women face to receive PTSD treatment. It also sheds light on the often unspoken needs of women veterans and the gender differences that exist, such as the lack of official recognition that women have served in a combat zone, which impedes their ability to get the benefits they deserve.
With this new information, the VA has identified and corrected one of the biggest obstacles facing women who need care for PTSD: the requirement that they have served in direct combat, which leaves out many female service members because Defense Department policy requires that women be excluded from units that primarily engage in direct ground combat. This rule has now been eliminated, which had essentially blocked women veterans from getting PTSD care.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have clearly challenged our traditional definition of combat, as women are often exposed to many war-time incidents that can produce mental stress, such as road-side bombs, and cause women to feel like they are on the frontlines. Therefore an increasing number of veterans are experiencing traumatic events without direct combat experience. This is now being recognized by the VA and they will allow any veteran that served in a combat zone to apply for help with PTSD.
Since 2007, BPW Foundation has engaged in programming and research about women veterans to identify solutions for their transition from military to civilian life through our Women Joining Forces (WJF) initiative. Information in the VA report aligns and builds on the research BPW Foundation has conducted about the state of women veterans, and the challenges they often face after serving our country.
BPW Foundation’s research shows that gender shapes men and women’s military experience as well as their transition process to civilian life. While both men and women face transitional challenges, the challenges have different manifestations because of gender. Upon arriving home many women veterans do not identify as veterans and can feel socially isolated and alone, which can result in feelings of hopelessness and confusion that only exacerbate possible symptoms of PTSD and depression from being exposed to war. Women veterans are more likely to fall into homelessness than their non-veteran female counterparts, and as of last year 11.2 percent of women veterans were unemployed.
All of these factors are exacerbated because many women veterans do not identify as veterans and do not understand the benefits available to them thereby denying them the services and treatment they desperately need. This is why the findings of the VA study are so powerful because it identifies specific problems in our system and prompts long overdue recommendations for viable solutions.
Stay tuned for further developments taking place in the aftermath of this long overdue report.