Daughter, mother, wife, these are just some of the titles women have, but to women veterans these titles not only look, but can feel different when they transition back into civilian lives. There are approximately 214,098 women serving in the military, and a total of 1,853,690 women veterans as of 2013.
Female veterans experience challenges as a result of their military service, including readjustment issues, post-traumatic stress disorder, military sexual trauma, trouble sleeping and physical injury. Females when coming home have a 9 percent chance of unemployment, they have more child care responsibilities, and they often have a hard time fitting into the social norms. A large issue is that the civilian population is failing to understand the increase of females in the military and female veterans. There have been several instances of female veterans being ridiculed when they park in a veterans only or wounded warrior parking spot. The ridicule that these female soldiers and veterans are experiencing affects their depression, PTSD, and adds doubt about the service they provided for their country.
A female veteran recently told me the frustration she had over not getting the recognition for her military service, but her husband getting recognized for her military service, due to people assuming that women aren't veterans. She told about an incident that happened to her when she went to the store: She had just gotten out of her truck when she was stopped by an older gentleman wearing a Vietnam veteran hat. She said, he had stopped her because he had seen the Iraq and Afghanistan War veteran sticker on her truck. He went on to say he wanted to tell her thank you for her husband's service. She tried to stop him to let him know that it was her who served, and he told her, well of course wives serve right alongside their husbands. That is when she got upset and spoke up a bit louder stating, "No sir, my husband did not serve. I am the one that served in the Army for the last six years, with two deployments." The gentleman went on to say "Oh well, that's nice dear, well thank you."
In 2010, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Mental Health Services, and Suicide Prevention Program published a report providing data, and according to 21 states, 22 veterans commit suicide every day. A Veterans Affairs study showed that female veterans' suicide rates were a third of male veterans. Female veterans have an increased risk of suicide compared the U.S. female population - actually higher than when the male veterans were compared to the U.S. male population.
Why is there an increase in female veteran suicides? This is the issue. There is not enough research among women veterans to know exactly why the increase. The thoughts among the veteran community are that women suffer from gender-specific issues, such as sexual trauma from rape, or sexual harassment during their military service. There is an estimated 10 percent of active duty women who are raped during their time in service. Other causes could be post-traumatic stress disorder that can be caused from combat and multiple deployments.
What can be done to help these female veterans? There have been some improvements from Capitol Hill, but without specific tools to help female veterans, the VA cannot do everything that is needed. The Female Veteran Suicide Prevention Act will require the VA to collect data and best practices for treating female veterans, in hopes to find the best, and most effective mental health and prevention programs for female veterans. The hope is that the VA can find the right fit for female veterans, get them into the right programs that work for them, and get them the help they need in time.
What can you do to help? Reach out to your congressmen, do letter writing campaigns, if you know a veteran who needs assistance please help them reach out.
The Veterans Crisis Line can be reached online or by calling 800-273-8255.
Christina Dieters is a spouse of a veteran and a graduate student at the University Of Southern California School Of Social Work. She lives in Colorado Springs.