Capt. LeeAnn Roberts instructs Iraqi trainees and a coalition soldier on proper firing techniques at the Al Kasik Training Base firing range, Iraq.
Women have served in the military since the Revolutionary War. According to a report issued late last year by the Disabled American Veterans (DAV)
Today they constitute approximately 20 percent of new recruits, 14.5 percent of the 1.4 million active duty component and 18 percent of the 850,000 reserve component. Almost 280,000 women have served Post-9/11 in Afghanistan and Iraq. While the number of male veterans is expected to decline by 2020, the number of women veterans is expected to grow dramatically, to 11 percent of the veteran population.
Transitioning from combat to peacetime is often difficult for veterans, and as a result the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have instituted programs to ease those transitions. DOD stateside facilities offer assistance to the family members of returning troops as well. Those programs
however, are geared to the needs of the female spouses and some do not even allow the spouses of female service members to participate.
Once they have been discharged, the problems facing women vets worsen as they deal with a Veterans Affairs department that is ill-suited to provide healthcare and other services for women.
According to DAV, one-third of the VA medical centers don’t have a gynecologist on staff and 90 percent of Community Based Outpatient Clinics lack a designated women’s health provider. Thirty-one percent of VA centers cannot provide adequate services for military sexual trauma, yet one in five women veterans seen at VA screen positive for some form of such trauma.
Although not many women veterans require them (less than 1.5 percent), prosthetics that are designed for men do not fit women very well, requiring repeat adjustments and often being rejected. Retired Army Major General Paul D. Eaton writes
In 2004, then captain – now congresswoman – Tammy Duckworth was piloting a Blackhawk helicopter in Iraq when it was shot down. She survived but lost both of her legs. When she awoke, in only a hospital gown, she was supplied with a “comfort kit,” some basics that are given to wounded troops. Included in the kit, besides slippers that she could no longer use, were a pair of men’s jockey shorts. Comfort kits simply weren’t made for women. Just for men.
Female veterans suffer from PTSD, anxiety and depression at a higher rate than do male vets. But the programs that the VA offers tend to strictly focus on the men, who are the majority of their patients, and ignore the special problems that women face. Although 10 percent of all patients in the VA's specialized PTSD treatment programs are women, there are a total of only three stress disorder treatment teams for women in the entire country. From the DAV report:
VA also has two women’s trauma recovery programs; these are 60-day live-in rehabilitation programs that include PTSD treatment and coping skills for re-entering the community. In 2012, these two programs served only 73 women.
Women veterans suffer a higher rate of unemployment than their brothers in arms and are less likely to find that the technical skills acquired during their service are of any help in securing employment back home. And while the Obama Administration has taken some steps in addressing the issue of veteran unemployment such the Joining Forces initiative which hopes to help 800,000 veterans and their spouses obtain employment, there is no outreach to women vets included in the program even though their rate of unemployment is higher.
We went off to a dumb war totally unprepared for the aftermath. Certain that our troops would be greeted with flowers and praise, no planning or budgeting for the injuries that war always creates was done. The VA was left to struggle along with no budget certainty year after year. The behemoth agency, which could barely keep up with the demands of the existing veteran population, basically collapsed under the weight of the new wars. It is slowly rebuilding, but there is much left to be done.
Perhaps the biggest problem is a societal one that the military only reflects. As a nation, we are still struggling with gender roles that have traditionally restricted women to care-giving occupations. The concept of a fighting woman warrior is one that is totally foreign to our culture. When they come home from combat we want them to immediately tie on an apron, raise the children, clean the house and find a full time job. They require assistance to make that transition. Assistance that they have earned and should not have to request.
Edited to remove this statistic from the DAV report that can't be verified:
That eight percent of all homeless veterans are women is not all that surprising until one realizes that women overall only represent 0.9 percent of homeless adults,
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