Health & Medicine

Mental health issues for female vets

This 28 year old Air Force Captain served two tours in Iraq. Her account of one especially harrowing day there was recently published in a military magazine. She reads a passage in which she describes returning to her base after her gun-truck was disabled in an ambush: despite dehydration, I experienced an urgent need to use the toilet. Women in the showers stopped and stared as a I shed my reeking body armor and uniform. By breasts ached. I caught a glimpse of my face and I finally relaxed. She says that day was unique. She is back now but she says the first six months were rough and she would find herself suddenly crying for no reason and she says she fears she's no longer in control of her emotions. She credits her parents for telling her that this was a normal reaction to war. The military encourages anyone to get help when they have problems returning from war, but that's easier said than done for women vets. This vet's hospital in Boston is an intimidating place. The few pictures here celebrate men in war. The fourth floor is a different experience: the women's wing is set off from the rest of the hospital. This psychologist and worker at the VA hospital says women are in the minority here and it's important to communicate they have a place here too. Her team is one of several across the US started in the 1990s in response to growing reports of sexual assault in the military. Since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began, she says more women have been treated for PTSD. Her out patient program treats around 200 women vets and they get more patients every month. Other women vets are facing more complex issues, some were raped while deployed. One leading psychiatrist recently testified that up to 30% of women vets are likely to be diagnosed with PTSD. The jury is still out on whether women are more likely to suffer such conditions than men. this researcher says women are serving different roles in the current conflicts than they have in historical examples, the conflicts themselves are different and so suddenly past experiences don't give a lot of guidance on how men and women respond to combat. The longer these wars go on, the more data they'll have, but that also means there will be more patients. The psychologist says early intervention makes a big difference. The Air Force Captain doesn't pretend to be an expert on PTSD but she does know what it's like to go and come back from war. She says there's no shame in tears. She says she would go back to Iraq in a heartbeat given the chance.