As of 2021, women make up about 17% of the active-duty military and 10% of the veteran population in the United States. These women have served their country with honor and bravery, but they often face unique challenges when it comes to their health and well-being. This blog post will explore 9 of the most significant health challenges women veterans face.
It’s essential to address these challenges because our women veterans’ health and well-being are crucial to our nation’s overall health. By understanding and addressing these challenges, we can better support the women who have served our country and ensure that they receive the care and resources they need.
Physical Health Challenges
Many women veterans experience chronic pain, which can be a result of their military service. Most of these are caused by injuries sustained during their service and sexual assault or harassment. These factors can have a significant impact on their quality of life as well as contribute to depression and anxiety.
Treatment for chronic pain can be challenging, but many options are available, including physical therapy, medications, and complementary therapies.
Injuries and illnesses
Military women suffer from many injuries and illnesses. This can range from infectious diseases such as sexually transmitted infections, malaria, and other illnesses – because of deployment and travel to areas with high disease prevalence – to developing musculoskeletal injuries, such as stress fractures, due to the physical demands of military training and service.
In addition, mesothelioma in the navy is also quite common as the ships used large amounts of asbestos in their construction and maintenance. Unfortunately, many women veterans were exposed to asbestos during their military service, particularly those who worked in shipyards or on military bases, making them victims of this rare and aggressive cancer. Mesothelioma can take decades to develop, and the symptoms may not appear until many years. Its symptoms can include chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, and coughing, all of which can be fatal if left untreated.
Military Sexual Trauma (MST)
Military sexual trauma (MST) is a term used to describe any sexual harassment, assault, or rape experienced by service members during their military service. Women veterans are at a higher risk of experiencing MST than their male counterparts, with a recent report showing that 23% of women in the military have experienced sexual assault.
MST can have profound and long-lasting effects on a woman’s physical and mental health, including chronic pain, gastrointestinal issues, reproductive problems, depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Women veterans who have experienced MST may also have difficulty forming relationships, maintaining employment, and adjusting to civilian life after their military service.
Mental Health Challenges
PTSD and Trauma
Women veterans are at a higher risk of experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and trauma due to their military service. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 1 in 5 women veterans experience PTSD, which is twice the rate of PTSD among male veterans. They often face additional stressors, such as sexual harassment, assault, and discrimination that can contribute to the development of PTSD.
PTSD symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance of certain people or situations, and hyperarousal, all of which can be debilitating and significantly impact their quality of life. Those who experience PTSD may have difficulty with everyday tasks and may struggle to maintain relationships or employment. However, with the right care and support, women veterans can learn to manage their symptoms and lead fulfilling lives.
Depression and Anxiety
In addition to PTSD, women veterans may also experience depression and anxiety as a result of their military service. Both of these mental issues can lead to feelings of hopelessness, loss of interest in activities, difficulty sleeping, and changes in appetite.
Common factors that cause this condition include the stress of military service, physical injuries, sexual assault or harassment, and difficulties adjusting to civilian life after military service.
Suicide Rates Among Women Veterans
Unfortunately, suicide rates are high among women veterans, with one study reporting that female veterans are nearly twice more likely to die by suicide than civilian women. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 17% of female veterans who use VA healthcare have had suicidal thoughts, which is significantly higher than the rate among male veterans.
The reasons for this are complex. It can include common factors like PTSD, depression, and MST and even unique challenges, such as caring for children or elderly family members that can contribute to feelings of stress and overwhelm.
Reproductive Health Challenges
Infertility and Fertility Issues
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, women veterans are at an increased risk for infertility due to exposure to environmental toxins and chemicals during their military service.
Exposure to certain medications and treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, can also impact fertility.
Lack of Access to Women’s Health Care
Women veterans may face unique challenges when it comes to accessing women’s health care, particularly if they live in rural areas or areas with a shortage of health care providers. This can make it difficult for women veterans to access preventive care, such as mammograms and cervical cancer screenings, as well as reproductive health care, such as birth control and prenatal care.
Maternal and Child Health Concerns
Pregnant veterans can also face challenges, particularly if they have experienced physical or mental health issues related to their military service.
It’s essential that women veterans have access to the care and support they need during pregnancy and childbirth to ensure the health and well-being of both mother and child.
Women veterans face unique health challenges that require attention and action. It’s important that we address these challenges and provide the care and support that women veterans need to maintain their health and well-being. By raising awareness of these challenges, we can work to ensure that women veterans receive the care and resources they need to lead healthy, fulfilling lives after their military service. Our duty is to support these courageous women who have served our country and given so much for our freedom.