Women veterans are the fastest-growing veteran group in the United States military. The female population of veterans is expected to rise from 9% to 15% in the next fifteen years, and that rate will continue to grow as military recruitment becomes more diverse. Although more women are joining the military, there is no equally increasing collection of resources available to them after their time of service.
Limited access to resources, particularly mental health counseling and housing assistance, creates adverse living conditions for women veterans. This typically results in high rates of mental illness, which is attributable to several factors, one of the most common being sexual assault.
Despite a zero-tolerance policy, sexual assault continues to be an underreported crime in the military. The Department of Defense’s 2016 fiscal report indicated that two-thirds of women on active duty do not report sexual assault incidents due to embarrassment, shame, or fear of discharge. Experiencing sexual assault or harassment during active duty directly correlates to military sexual trauma, a term used to refer to the impact of sexual abuse on veterans’ mental health.
Military sexual trauma, typically referred to as MST, affects one in five women veterans. This is drastically disproportionate to the one in 100 men affected, yet women do not receive any additional or specialized counseling.
Another prominent issue women veterans face is the risk of homelessness. Unemployment and poor mental and physical health can hinder their ability to pay for adequate housing. While residential programs and shelters are tailored to help these women in need, organizations fail to receive enough federal funding to accommodate the growing number of women without homes.
Veteran women are also experiencing an emerging and unrecognized issue –– alienation. While servicemen often develop a sense of community after serving, women tend to feel displaced both in and out of veteran settings, according to the Service Women’s Action Network. The isolation is due to bias against women for leaving their families and children while on active duty. After serving, women can develop stricter and more assertive communication styles, which makes the transition back into civilian life much more difficult. The adversity they face within the military follows them even after they leave.
There is one critical issue that is associated with all of these concerns, and several more –– suicide. According to statistics from the Department of Veteran Affairs, the suicide rate among women veterans is more than twice as high than that of non-veteran women. Additionally, the suicide rate among women veterans is higher than the rate for men.
As stated by the Service Women’s Action Network, the call for gender-specific veteran resources is not new. As the amount of women in service increases, there must also be a growing network of support for the women who serve our country.