“A growing number of women are serving in the US military. In 2008, 11% of Veterans from the Afghanistan and Iraq military operations were women. These numbers are expected to keep rising. In fact, women are the fastest growing group of Veterans” (National Center for PTSD). While this number continues to grow, women face challenges that routinely place them at risk for victimization and isolation while deployed. Additionally, reintegrating successfully to their home communities proves extremely difficult as female veterans often face systems that remain primarily male centered in their service delivery for historical and societal reasons. Although women have served in the U.S. military since the Revolutionary War, it wasn’t until 1988 that the VA began offering medical and mental health services to female veterans. A manager from a clinic dedicated to female veterans at the VA Medical Center in Salt Lake City said “the legacy of that exclusion is still being felt today” (Salt Lake Tribune, 2011)
Women also face higher rates of homelessness in comparison to their male counterparts. “Not only are returning service women nearly four times as likely as men to become homeless, but roughly 40% of those who experience homelessness also report having been sexually assaulted while in the military” (Natelson, 2010).
Significant progress has been made towards simplifying the process for applying for benefits in the case of returning veterans who suffer from PTSD through the new PTSD regulations (US Department of Veterans Affairs, 2010); however, these new regulations still fall short in meeting the needs of those whose source of PTSD is military sexual trauma related, the majority of whom are women. “Among the most pervasive stressors experienced by military women are incidents of sexual assault and harassment. By some accounts, nearly a third of female veterans report episodes of sexual assault during military service, while 71 to 90 percent report experiences of sexual harassment. These experiences are closely associated with PTSD in a variety of studies; in fact, military sexual assault is a stronger predictor of PTSD among women veterans than combat history” (Natelson’s, 2009; Murdoch et. al, 2003).
Within the context of violence against women, this is a matter of growing concern for anti-violence advocates. Responding to the needs of female veterans who experience domestic and sexual violence is among the services that many local community programs will likely be providing in the near future. For some programs across the country, this is already taking place. As we honor these service members and veterans, we need to understand the dynamics surrounding violence that come into play when working with this population. What follows are things to consider:
- What may be some of the co-occurring issues unique to these survivors?
- Are female service members and veterans at a higher risk for victimization?
- What are the challenges faced by female veterans/survivors who are also mothers?
We compiled resources that are expected to grow over time, as more information continues to emerge in response to these needs. Included here are are testimonies, news articles, online tools, research papers and other related materials. However, one of our goals with this section of the collection is to highlight the paucity of research and funding opportunities specifically devoted to address the needs of female service members and veterans at this point in time. The few isolated efforts taking place at the national level and within some communities are currently not enough to respond to the needs of female service members and veterans. Without the institutionalization of effective interventions designed to prevent violence and address the trauma experienced by these veterans and service members, they will likely continue to be at risk for ongoing victimization and further physical and psychological harm.