Monday, March 5, 2012

Female Soldiers and their Wounds of War

A February 20th, 2012, "Medical Monday" article on the DoDLive blog, "Women and Wounds of War" by Terri Moon Cronk of the American Forces Press Service cites new statistics on the combat injuries or operational theater injuries vary between female and male soldiers.  The role of a U.S. soldier, female or male, is more equal in today's wars than wars of decades past.

The article is mostly a review of "The Long Road Home", the February installment of the "Recon" series on the Pentagon Channel which began its run on Feb. 19th, 2012.  The “Recon” series is a monthly, 30-minute broadcast that provides an in-depth look at operations, missions, military events, history and other subjects highlighting the accomplishments of U.S. military.

I'd like to share some of the statistics (most cited from studies after 2005)  from the article: 
1.  The percentage of women in the military has doubled withing the last 30 years (1982-2012)
2.  The percentage of female veterans that are homeless or suffer from drug addiction or PTSD has increased during that time.
3.  The Veterans Affairs office says it is now (vs. in 1982) easier for female veterans to ask for help.
4.  The Defense Centers for Excellence in Psychological Health and TBI at Walter Reed say there has recently been a great increase in funding for related issues facing female veterans. 
Female Soldiers vs. Male Soldiers
1.  Female soldiers have a higher rate than male soldiers of having PTSD and depression post-deployment.
2.  Female soldiers have a higher rate of binge drinking and eating disorders.
3.  The VA estimates that 6500 female veterans are homeless.  This rate has doubled since 2002.
4.  VA reports 1 in 5 female veterans reported military sexual trauma during their military service.
5.  VA also reports that 315,000 women have used the VA in 2010, that number almost tripled in just 10 years.
[The article does not cite any specific studies that this stats come from.  They just quote key people who quote these statistics.  When I come across these specific studies, I will post or link them here.  If you know of them, please post in the comments section.]

Factors to Increase Resilience and Decrease Symptoms of Traumatic Stress
Factors that help increase resilience and decrease the symptoms associated with long-lasting traumatic stress:  good quality sleep, good support system, and healthy ways to decompress (talking with fellow soldiers in safe environment about what happened down range, yoga classes, acupuncture for stress relief, exercise, healthy diet, prayer and strong spiritual life, and availability to talk with a chaplain or other safe spiritual guide).
Some Symptoms of Traumatic Stress (not all listed)
Some symptoms of traumatic stress:  easy to anger/rage/frustration, nightmares, flashbacks, emotional changes (often more easily angered or irritable), anxiety, easily startled, and/or depression.  Traumatic stress is not PTSD unless the symptoms are prolonged and unchanged for a extended period of time (often more than 1 year) and must be dignosed by a psychologist or related psych professional.  The more help you receive for your symptoms of traumatic stress early on in your process and the greater your resilience factors, the more likely it is that you will not develop long-term PTSD.  Symptoms of stress after a trauma is normal.  Experiencing prolonged symptoms that impair your daily activities or quality sleep is not normal.  Please see below for posts on helpful resources.
Compare these to proper "battlemind" mode:  alert and ready, hyper-aroused, ever vigilant for any enemy noise or movement, and always ready to protect battle buddies and selves. 

Transition from "Battlemind" to "Peacemind"
For more on transitioning from operational theater "battlemind" to "peacemind", check out the Army's Behavioral Health webpage and Dr. Bridget Cantrell's books:  DownRange:  To Iraq and Back, Once a Warrior:  Wired for Life, and Souls Under Siege from her Hearts Toward Home website.  Also check out the Operational Stress Continuum blog post.  There is a range of healthy stress reactions before you reach the "injured or ill" stages.  At any time in your transition to peace-time, check out the APA's traumatic stress growth inventory.

Helpful Resources
For help dealing with symptoms of traumatic stress,
1.  talk to your local chaplain or spiritual guide.  
2.  Focus on building a support network and increasing your resilience.
3.  Get help that works for you.  You may need to try several things to find your best "fit".
For more information on finding help or more resources, check out these articles and links (not an exhaustive source, but a good starting point after you've talked to your chaplain):
Military OneSource or  1-800-342-9647 (articles, free counselling sessions for servicemember and family members, webinars, will find local resources for you)
If you live in the TriWest Region, you can get free online counseling (can do it from home) or call 1-888-874-9378.
For Guardsmen:  Yellow Ribbon Re-integration program or related post.
Military Stress Recovery Project Clinics, for one near you, check out the list on AWB's website. 
                                A new women veterans-only clinic has just started in Albuquerque.
SWAN (Service Women's Action Network)
Coffee Strong
Navy's Fleet and Family Service Center
American Women Veterans
Real Warriors
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
Give An Hour--non-profit that provides free mental health counseling for veterans of  the recent Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
Fatigues to Fabulous--a national campaign established to honor and support the 1.8 million American women veterans by raising awareness about the issues affecting military women and by providing funds for needed services and medical research.
Army Girl blog, as featured on the "Recon:  the Long Road Home" video mentioned above.

For related information, check out these related De-Stress Vets Blog posts:
The Different Kinds of Stress
Resilience in a Time of War
Resilience in a Time of War: Homecoming
Psychological Health and the Military Family--FOCUS program
Managing Traumatic Stress: Tips for Recovering from Diasters and other Traumatic Events
Healing Energy Special Series for Military Families
Military Family:  Keeping Your Relationship Strong
OASIS program


[Images are from ClipArt.]

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