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This Happened in a Man’s World: Female Veterans and Military Sexual Trauma

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The rate of suicide for female veterans is six times the rate of their civilian counterparts, and there is a very strong association between PTSD, sexual victimization as children and during military service, and suicide. The majority of efforts through the VA focus on the significantly larger population of male veterans, though recent efforts have been made to reach out to female veterans with women’s clinics. But many women still see the VA as a man’s world, part of the same man’s world as the military. And that world is both a source of pride and betrayal.

Female veterans are dealing with a great deal of ambivalence about their service, and are suffering the effects of PTSD and other mental and physical health effects of service. With a system that seems steeped in the same male culture that engendered the sexual assault, the VA is not the first place female vets turn to for help. The military is both the system they wanted to serve, and be a part of; it is also the system that, for many women, condoned silence in the name of loyalty.

With a pattern of sexual exploitation as children, and the dangerously high rates of revictimization and sexual assault in the military–a 2013 Rand study showed 26,000 cases of sex abuse across uniformed service–women veterans face challenges coping with their PTSD. President Obama signed the Female Veterans Suicide Prevention Bill in July 2016; the bill calls for concentrated efforts for outreach and collaboration between mental health professionals. However, changing the culture that has engendered this degree of sexual violence against women and children is not going to begin by trying to take care of the victims.

Women veterans are at higher risk of suicide and debilitating mental health, and have less access to healthcare that addresses their particular needs. For more information on PTSD, please contact us.

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