At this time of year, whether we are with family around a table enjoying Thanksgiving dinner or by ourselves meditating about what we should be thankful for, there are some sub-groups within the normal collectives to whom we give thanks and honor that shouldn’t be forgotten. One example is an often forgotten minority of service ”men” who are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan or have done so in the past in Viet Nam, Europe or Japan, to guard is from the evil dangers of war—that is the population of women warriors, wounded or not.
According to the Center for Women Veterans, there are about two million women veterans out of a total of about 23 million US veterans. New Mexico has about 17,000 women vets. According to the Veterans Health Administration, more than 212,000 women service members have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since the Global War on Terror began, more than ten percent of the total deployed force; more than 137 service women have died in defense of our nation, and more than 500,000 have enrolled in the VA health care system—obviously as wounded warriors.
Here are some things that you need to know:
- Women are now the fastest growing subgroup of U.S. veterans. Their number is expected to increase profoundly in the next ten years. VA health care is in high demand by the women Veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom(OTF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).
- It has been well documented that women veterans who are Veterans Administration (VA) patients have about the same levels of physical and mental illness as do men and require comparable intensity of health care services.
- The only major national memorial Arlington National Cemetery that honors all servicewomen—past, present and future is the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. About 2.5 million women have served or are serving in US Armed Forces since the American Revolution.
- A comprehensive study on Vietnam-era women veterans will soon be published–Lifesaver— Time/Life portrait of “Nurse Hamilton,” who was one of about 8,000 women who served with the U.S. military in Vietnam.
- The VA reports that the most common conditions for women vets are: back problems, joint disorders, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), reproductive health conditions, depression(!), musculoskeletal problems(!), adjustment disorders(!), skin disorders(!), and hearing disorders. (The conditions marked with (!) indicated conditions that affect women vets more than their male counterparts.)
- Just as in civilian settings, both women and men soldiers can experience a wide range of unwanted and distressing sexual behaviors that affect their wellness both during and after deployment. “Military Sexual Trauma (MST)” is the overarching term the VA uses to refer to experiences of sexual assault or repeated, threatening acts of sexual harassment. According to the VA, about 1 in 5 women vets respond “yes‟when screened for MST. Rates are significantly higher for women.
- It is estimated that close to 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and about 2/3s of those also have PTSD. 13% of U.S. soldiers serving in those theaters are women and, even with a more limited combat role, 10.5% of women OEF/OIF veterans receiving VA care have screened positive for TBI post-deployment.
In New Mexico:
- Women veterans in New Mexico can be helped with wellness issues such as keeping their cholesterol levels down by taking advantage of a full range of services offered through the Women’s Comprehensive Care Clinic (WCCC) in Albuquerque, as well as at eleven other clinics across the state. The program also offers gender-specific, primary care, gynecology, cancer screening, preventive care, and behavioral health care.
- Homelessness for female vets is a large issue in New Mexico. The YWCA’s Henderson House in Albuquerque provides housing for women vets and their children. You are encouraged to go to the website to support the facility.
If you happened to include this sub-group of “Wounded Warriors” in your prayers and thoughts in the past, please include them in the future for the aforementioned reasons.