There are far more men than women in the military, yet each year the number of women serving in our Armed Forces grows. In fact, women are the fastest growing group of Veterans. In 2008, 11% of Veterans from the Afghanistan and Iraq military operations were women and these numbers are expected to keep rising. As the numbers have increased over the years, so has the need for resources geared specifically towards women veterans who have experienced trauma related to their military service.
Trauma is common in women; five out of ten women experience a traumatic event. And women tend to experience different traumas than men. Women in the military face specific stressors. While not always trained for combat, they are often involved in combat or combat-support missions, experiencing hostile fire, and injury. They may feel alone in their units, with few other women for emotional support. It may be hard for women with young children to be deployed for long periods of time. Still yet another source of stress, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, for women veterans is Military Sexual Trauma.
Military Sexual Trauma (MST) is the term used by the Department of Veterans Affairs to refer to experiences of sexual assault or repeated, threatening acts of sexual harassment. This may also include being threatened with negative consequences for refusing to go along with the advances, or promised promotions/advancement or better treatment for going along with it. If the MST is especially traumatic, as in the case of sexual assault, it can lead to PTSD. The Department of Defense conducted a study of sexual victimization among active duty populations and found rates of sexual harassment to be 78% among women, and attempted or completed sexual assault to be 6%.
In response to the recent increase in women Veterans, the VA has put in place a number of health care and research programs just for women, including the Women Veterans Health Care program. Every VA Medical Center in the country now has a Women Veterans Program Manager. This person is there to organize services and resources so that women veterans can get specific help they need. The following VA programs are devoted to women veterans’ healthcare:
- Women’s Stress Disorder Treatment Teams – special outpatient mental health programs. They focus on the treatment of PTSD and other problems related to trauma.
- Specialized inpatient and residential programs for women – These are live-in programs for women veterans who need more intense treatment and support.
- Women Veterans Comprehensive Health Centers – Many VA centers throughout the country have complete health centers for women veterans only.
- Women Veterans Homelessness Programs – These programs can help women veterans find shelter if they are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
For more information on any of these programs, or to find out what programs are available in your area, contact your local VA Center, and speak with your Women Veterans Program Manager.
(Information for this blog post was found on www.ptsd.va.gov)