195. Female Veterans Struggle with PTSD Treatment


The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are the most sustained combat operations since the Vietnam War. A wealth of research has shown convincingly that the frequency and intensity of exposure to combat experiences is strongly associated with the risk of chronic posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD; APA, 1994) and related impairment (Kaylor, King, & King, 1987). As a result, there is good reason to be more concerned about the long-term mental health toll associated with these new wars than with the toll of other post-Vietnam War operations, such as the mission to Somalia (Litz, Orsillo, Friedman, Ehlich, & Batres, 1997) and the 1991 Persian Gulf War (Wolfe, Erickson, Sharkansky, King, & King, 1999). Only one comprehensive study has examined the mental health impact of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (Hoge et al., 2004). This study evaluated active-duty soldiers’ reports of various war-zone experiences and the rates of mental health problems; the estimated risk for PTSD from service in the Iraq War was much higher than from service in the Afghanistan mission (18% vs. 11%, respectively). In both contexts, reports of combat exposure were highly associated with the risk of PTSD.  (National Center for PTSD)

Females make up about 20% of today’s military personnel.  There are also almost 2 million women veterans in the United States.  However, the Iraq war marks the first time in our country’s history when woman have been widely exposed to the front lines of combat.  The statistics support the fact that PTSD is a real and all too common consequence of combat for all our military~both male and females alike. Unfortunately, our VA services have yet to keep up with the needs of our female veterans when it comes to providing services for PTSD.

I have to admit that I was a bit stunned when I read this story about our female veterans having difficulty receiving treatment for PTSD through the VA.  It would seem that the VA should be knowledgable about the risk of PTSD  as it is very real  for all soldiers in Iraq without regard to gender bias. According to the most recent report from the Department of Veterans Affairs, there are 7.8 million veterans in the VA health care system and only 342,624 of them have received PTSD compensation.

86% of soldiers in Iraq reported knowing someone who was seriously injured or killed, 68% reported seeing dead or seriously injured Americans, and 51% reported handling or uncovering human remains (Hoge et al., 2004). Witnessing the aftermath of violence and death has been shown to create risk for anxiety, anger and aggressive behavior, somatic complaints, and PTSD (McCarrol, Ursano, & Fullerton, 1997). 77% of soldiers deployed to Iraq reported shooting or directing fire at the enemy, 48% reported being responsible for the death of an enemy combatant, and 28% reported being responsible for the death of a noncombatant.(National Center for PTSD)

Female veterans face yet another source of PTSD while serving in the military. The incidence of sexual assaults on females has risen 26% in 2008 according to a  recent Pentagon report.  The numbers of female soldiers reporting sexual assault is estimated at only 20-30% of the actual number of total cases. About one in five women who seek treatment from the VA report that they experienced sexual trauma while in the military. Proving that mental problems are the result of sexual trauma or assault is especially challenging for women who did not file complaints at the time of the assault or the incident. Sadly, the current VA services have been sorely lacking in support for services of all veterans in dealing with PTSD upon the return of our Iraq veterans.

PTSD is a known cause of homeless among all our veterans. Without proper treatment and support our female veterans join the ranks of their male colleagues in becoming homeless. In fact,there has been a step rise in female homeless veterans over the past year…and the numbers will continue to grow as more troops are brought home.Once homeless, the VA system has been notoriously inefficient in offering services to all our homeless veterans. Meanwhile, we continue to await our government taking measures to assure that all our soldiers receive the medical care and support services that they deserve while serving our country.

S. 597: Women Veterans Health Care Improvement Act of 2009  to expand and improve health care services available to women veterans, especially those serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, from the Department of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes is currently pending review in the Senate..


7 Responses to “195. Female Veterans Struggle with PTSD Treatment”

  1. 1 bikerbernie
    April 20, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    How about the fact that women already have SUPERIOR treatment? Over 20% of the armed forces are made of women BUT women are only 2.32% of the deaths in Iraq. It seems to me that this indicates a special protection that men are not receiving. It also indicates that they are not as close to the front lines as stated and or are in more “secure” areas of the front.

    This I am sure contributes to why PTSS is not treated in the same way as it is for male soldiers. I am sure that those in less protected areas of the front receive preferential and priority treatment. Simple, really.

    I have much more in the way of disparity of male vs. female but you are not going to like it.


    I’m not in the military nor do I claim to know the disparities that exists among genders within the ranks of our military. However, I have had direct contact with our soldiers post deployment and can attest to the fact that PTSD is very high among our returning troops. The individual triggers of PTSD may be varied but as this article points out, over half of our troops experience some type of psychological trauma while serving in the name of our country.Sadly,our female soldiers face unique sources of PTSD with the rising incidence of sexual assaults that have recently come to light via the referenced report by The Pentagon.
    All men and woman who sign up for the military should expect to have the injuries incurred during their time of service cared for post deployment regardless of the roles they perform while serving our country. Sadly, this isn’t happening for the majority of either female or male soldiers who are returning home. More on this topic can be found here:http://wanderingvets.com/2008/05/27/the-spirit-of-our-veterans/
    An American

  2. April 22, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    I am not sure of your reasoning that women soldiers already get superior treatment. It does not make sense to me considering that women not only face combat but they are also sexually assaulted. Plus where in war is there special treatment on the outside lines? People have been killed in safe zone, including women. I also disagree that you should expect to be injured serving in a war zone, does this happen to also include being sexually assaulted? The treatment for women who served concerning PTSD often is complex because now it includes trauma from war as well as sexual assault. It takes a special woman who will step up to the plate and volunteer to join the service (I should know I served in USMC 1966-37). the only ones who can truly understand what these women are going through is from those who are currently or have already served. I commend you for posting but you are way off base in your reasoning about the topic.
    It sounds like you never stepped up to the plate and served your country.
    Perhaps if you had served you would have a better understanding of what all these women veterans are going through. We have not only had to deal with sexual assault (and sure the numbers are not the same for men), we now have women who have gone through combat. this alone, makes for very complex cases in which the VA (even after all the years of having to deal with sexual assault) have not fully addressed. This is not written in anger, but in regards that I have dealt with women in military and women veteran issues since I served in 1966 where there was a cap of women only being allowed to be 2% of the military. I also disagree with the fact, that soldiers today should expect injuries if they serve during war, so does that include sexual assault?

    • 3 bikerbernie
      May 12, 2009 at 11:58 pm


      I never said that women are not killed or that “outside the lines” is safe but it is undeniable that they are “safer.” There is nothing safe in this world but there are things that are safer. I believe that somewhere I had posted that 20+% of our forces over there are women and comprise about only 2% of the casualties. It is not hard to divine that women have preferential treatment when 80% of the forces are men but make up 98% of the casualties.

      Also notice what you have conspicuously left out of your statement, it does speak volumes. You state “It takes a special woman who will step up to the plate and volunteer to join the service (I should know I served in USMC 1966-37).” which seems to imply that it does not take a special kind of man to step up to the plate who by the way are also ALL volunteer at this point in time. I think you have a typo in your dates.

      It does not take being a member of the club to understand what others have gone through just similar situations that echo the same type of treatment.

      As far as “stepping up to the plate” that was an unnecessary jibe at me and does not follow the rules of debate decorum. No I have not been a member of the military and all our “conflicts” from Korea and forward are the reason. The conflicts have all had questionable motives at best and I cannot be a part of a fight if I do not know why I am fighting. Our military has been not forthcoming with all the true natures of these “conflicts” and some even were in diametrical opposition to previous wars.

      Since the military was not for me I found may other ways to “step up to the plate” and serve my country one being a firefighter. I have a strong scene of civic duty and had to find ways to give back to my country. I have been hospitalized several times because of fire ground mishaps. Also I would say to you since you say to me that “Perhaps if you had served you would have a better understanding of what all these women men veterans are going through.” I find this particularly humorous because there are still, if you will good ol’ boys clubs, out there where men dominate certain job fields primarily because of interest such as firefighting. I find it humorous because “sexual harassment” was not perceived as existing until a woman joined the ranks and then holy cow you still could harass the men but you had to walk on egg shells around the women. The point is that yes WE WERE SEXUALLY HARASSED AS MEN IN WAYS THAT YOU COULD NOT IMAGINE before women came on the scene and it continued after the women were there. If this is not preferential treatment then it does not exist. It was a way of bonding, away of seeing if you could “cut it,” a way to see if you would always have someones back through thick and thin. They all knew that we would have disagreements with each other but they wanted to know despite these differences that we would still have their back. I WAS HAZED IN WAYS THAT ARE ILLEGAL AND UNTHINKABLE TODAY. I am happy that I was because this was the bond that binded us together. The new generation of firefighter has no comprehension of the bonds that we old timers have and they never will, it is a sad loss. The difference between men and women here are that the men did not complain but the women threatened to own the fire company if they had to endure the same. So yes, I know what it is like perhaps even more than you because we had to endure, some did complain, it fell on deaf ears and emasculated them by intent and design. This was clearly sexist, women would complain and say jump and the officers would say “How high?” men would be told to “man up!” by the same officers. Yes, I know and lived with disparities, illegal disparities, and all that was just hunky dory. I feel that if women want to join the well established boys club they have no right coming in and changing everything because a “woman” is there, either you want equal rights or you do not, if you do then you have to experience that which all the men that came before you did or you really are not a member of the club. I am not angry either but I am stating simple fact. If women think that they are the only people being, for lack of a better expression, “picked on” you are sorely mistaken.

      What exactly is your take since you have served since 1966 that when a man who was a nurse he went in as a private and a woman who was a nurse went in as a lieutenant? This is sexist and clearly demonstrates that women did not earn their rank in the same way that men HAD to earn theirs. I know for a fact that this existed in Korea and I believe ‘Nam for all I know it exists today.


      The focus of Wanderingvets is not gender disparity issues among our military. This particular entry highlighted some issues that are being widely experienced by female veterans who return from the Middle East. ALL our veterans are experiencing a sharp rise in homelessness and increasing PTSD due to military duty….this isn’t acceptable.
      FYI: In 2009 sexual harassment in the form of unwanted sexual advances towards female military isn’t the same thing as “hazing” ..the link provided to the Pentagon report highlights the type of behaviors that are rising among our troops. ALL branches of the military have recognized sexual harassment as a barrier to effectiveness within our troops and have ongoing task forces to investigate and respond to this rise in unwanted stress.
      Woman are in the military to stay….the “boys club” needs to value females as responsible and contributing members of our troops regardless of the roles they occupy. A zero tolerance for sexual harassments should be the norm for the safety and well being of all our troops.

      • 4 Vanessa
        April 23, 2011 at 7:20 pm


        I feel compelled to write to you as one of those Iraq female vets who got “superior” treatment. I was one of 4 women on an all male post, all combat units. I got cat-called, harassed, stared at, isolated, threatened, on a near daily basis while in country. Not by Iraqis mind you, but by my fellow Marines. The same people I was supposed to trust when going outside the wire (that’s what it’s called when you leave base, btw). I had the door on my can (the place where I slept) tested nearly every single night. That means that some guy, or guys, went by, shaking the handle and/or kicking the door to see if it would open. I was religious about locking it. I couldn’t pee at night for fear of walking to the head (the bathroom).

        I dealt with more graphic and objectionable material every single day than you can possibly imagine. I have seen the horror of war, up close, and personal. I have lost friends, I have had friends wounded. If I described my experience to you in detail, you would be sick to your stomach with what I could tell. I live with those images and sounds every single day. My PTSD isn’t valid according to your logic. I take great offense to that. I realize that I’m beating a drum that a deaf ear (yours) will not hear, but perhaps you could try researching the roles that women have played in our recent combat, the decorated service that many female vets have provided, and the lingering trauma they suffer in relation to that service. Educate yourself. Talk to other women vets, seek out information before making baldfaced ignorant assumptions. I hope that you find yourself enlightened.

  3. 5 anton jefferson
    April 24, 2009 at 9:53 am

    Veterans Village of San Diego
    Welcome Home Family Program

    286 Euclid Ave. Ste. 209 San Diego, CA. 92114
    Phone: (619) 264-7401 Fax: (619) 264-5561


    Dear Community Leader/s: 4/24/09

    Here is a resource for you; if you host an AA/NA meeting in your facility, could you get this to the secretary? If you want us to know anything regarding your services to the community, just let us know. Also, if you could you post our flier, we would appreciate it.

    Welcome Home Family Program is looking to fill apartments for female veterans with families. (They can be single, married, or have children) This is a transitional housing; length of stay is up to two years. Must have substance abuse issues and be clean and sober for 90 days or more. Another eligibility requirement is that the veteran must have two years consecutively served and discharged with an honorable. No animals are allowed.

    BE blessed,
    Teri Bowen CATC

    Call (619) 264-7401
    Teri Bowen CATC ext 224
    Anton Jefferson CATC ext 221

    If you have any questions feel free to contact us.

  4. 6 Kim West
    May 5, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    Come on people!It really doesn’t matter the gender or sexul orientation of our service folks coming home. WE MUST find ways to provide our returning folks with support of all types. If it means starting groups to support or just befriending these folks we owe them ALL at least that much. Afterall, aren’t they fighting so each one of us can be free and enjoy life?

    Write your Congressfolks but for God sake make your voices heard……….we cannot ignore this impending tidal wave just around the corner. If we do, what will happen is nothing short of criminal not to mention,unethical or worse Un American.

    • 7 bikerbernie
      May 7, 2009 at 11:14 am


      Yes it does matter. When there is a disparity to women it receives more than its due medial attention. Brest cancer, pay disparity, health care, heart attacks, objectification, etc. If you have EVER spoken up for any of these issues your stance is hypocritical, especially for example that they pay disparity has been put to rest by a federal government sanctioned study. The bottom line being that when ALL factors are included and extrapolated the disparity can be called zero.


      Our veterans are indeed diverse,but the bottom line is that anyone who joins our military should be supported for all service related illnesses/disabilities…period. Clearly, there seem to be widespread disparities of all our veterans when we look at the lack of supportive services of the VA system in meeting the needs of veterans. This isn’t an issue that effects only female veterans rather females are but one population within our veteran population that are in dire need of better veteran services.

      All our veterans are being exposed to unprecedented sources of PTSD. Each and every veteran regardless of pay grade,gender,or other factors is deserving of this country’s unwaivering support!

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