It has taken a while, but it looks like serious attention is finally being paid to the effects war is having on our female troops. A new study focuses on the PTSD in women veterans, a population which not too long ago was deemed so removed from combat that the military failed to diagnose returning female troops with PTSD. Some of the highlights of the study, which is published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, include the fact that women suffering from PTSD tend to become depressed while men tend to turn to alcohol and that all the trauma does not come from combat but also from sexual assault and repeated harassment.
By focusing on how war is affecting women in the ranks, the spotlight is shining on a problem few have spoken about openly: rape and sexual denigration and harassment. This is no news to groups like SWAN ( Service Women’s Action Network) nor to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Veteran Affairs. There is a page of useful resources and information for veterans and families, and the VA conducted a study to screen for Military Sexual Trauma or MST. Here is an excerpt (italics are ours):
How common is MST?
Information about how commonly MST occurs comes from VA‟s universal screening program. Under this program, all Veterans seen at Veterans Health Administration (VHA) facilities are asked whether they experienced sexual trauma during their military service; Veterans who respond “yes‟ are asked if they are interested in learning about MST-related services available. Not every Veteran who responds “yes‟ needs or is necessarily interested in treatment. It’s important to note that rates obtained from VA screening cannot be used to make any estimate of the rate of MST among all those serving in the U.S. Military, as they are drawn only from Veterans who have chosen to seek VA health care. Also, a positive response does not indicate that the perpetrator was a member of the military.
About 1 in 5 women and 1 in 100 men seen in VHA respond “yes‟ when screened for MST. Though rates of MST are higher among women, because of the disproportionate ratio of men to women in the military there are actually only slightly fewer men seen in VA that have experienced MST than there are women.
Now a documentary, The Invisible War, will put it on the national stage when it debuts at Sundance. Sexual assault is not the only trauma service women — and men — suffer. But it is one we can do something to prevent.