Women veterans who have completed their military service face various issues in returning to civilian life — some identical to the challenges confronted by military men, and some unique to the rapidly growing population of women veterans in the era since 9/11.
Here are five of the most pressing issues for women reintegrating after military service.
Many returning female vets have felt isolated, unacknowledged and invisible in a civilian society that either can't fathom what they've been through, or discounts their military experience as somehow less challenging than that of male veterans.
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Even as their numbers grow, these women have sometimes struggled to find and connect to one another and build mutually supportive veteran networks of the kind that are more established and taken for granted among male veterans.
These were just some of the findings of a September 2014 study, "Women Veterans: The Long Journey Home," published by Disabled American Veterans
(DAV) and widely reported on in national news media as the country began to address the women's veteran population boom.
2. Falling through cracks
Women say that sense of female invisibility can persist even in the institutions created to help the military population. Benefits and service programs operated by the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs "tend to lag behind in serving women," The Wall Street Journal reported
, citing the 2014 DAV study and other sources.
"A third of VA medical centers lack a gynecologist on staff, the [DAV] report says," the Journal reported. "About one in five women veterans report having experienced military sexual trauma, including rape, yet 31% of VA clinics lack staff to provide adequate treatment, according to the Institute of Medicine, an independent nonprofit."
3. Self isolation
Women veterans will sometimes place themselves beyond the reach of help. "We have found that women veterans underutilize VA care, largely because of a lack of knowledge about VA benefits and available services," the agency's chief consultant for women's health services wrote in 2013
Some women veterans "were less likely to seek care in what they perceived to be male-oriented programs," the National Health Care for the Homeless Council reported
in a 2012 study, "Health & Homelessness Among Women Veterans."
"Hesitance to identify as a veteran, sometimes triggered by avoidance of traumatic military experiences or a perceived lack of acknowledgement from society," was another reason for self-isolation found by the "Health & Homelessness" study.
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The DAV report found unemployment among recently discharged female veterans running more than a point above jobless rate for male service members in 2013.
Female veterans were no more likely to suffer from PTSD than male veterans, according to a 2012 VA study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research
. Yet they were the fastest-growing segment of the veteran homeless population, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reported in 2011
Female veterans were also more likely than male veterans to be single parents, the VA found, a potentially complicating factor in the search for stable and secure housing, CNN reported
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