Desert Storm Females feel the same
Females have served in some capacity in all of America’s wars, but nearly 230,000 have served in the Middle East since September 2001, and according to the Department of Defense, at least 120 have died (and more than 600 have been wounded) while doing so.
And while the transition from military life to civilian society is difficult for any soldier, marine or seaman, women returning from war are finding a system both unprepared for their arrival and a populace that doesn’t understand the role women play on the modern battlefield.
“We just want to know that when we come home, America has our back,” Genevieve Chase, a staff sergeant in the Army Reserves, told the Associated Press. “That's the biggest thing. Women are over there. You want to feel like you're coming home to open arms, rather than to a public that doesn't acknowledge you for what you've just done and what you just sacrificed.”
Since the Defense Department bars women from serving in assignments where the primary mission is to engage in direct ground warfare, returning female warriors find themselves fighting the perception they hadn’t experienced ‘real’ combat.
Defense Department edict or not, women – serving in roles such as military police, pilots, convoy gunners and drivers – are often in the midst of battles.
“Oh, you didn't do anything or you were just on base,” was a regular response that Hammack received, even though the Army Reserve sergeant suffers from post-concussive headaches, ringing in her ears, and other health problems related to barack bomb blasts.
But the doubt regarding the extent of her ‘service’ went beyond civilian misconceptions; the Veterans Administration (VA) also downplayed her role in the fighting.
For the VA, the treatment of female service members now falls on a system long geared toward treating an aging male population. In the last budget year, the VA saw 281,000 female veterans, a 12 percent increase from two years earlier. Women currently represent one in 16 veterans in the system, but in 15 years are projected to represent one in seven.
And as was the case with Sergeant Hammack, some female veterans said the VA staff didn't believe them when they said they had been in combat. Other women described being mistaken for daughters or granddaughters of male patients.
“It's not the old guys group anymore,” Ann Brown, Director of the Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg, WV, told the AP. “It's women and it's younger, and the younger folks, they need more than just medical care. They've got family issues. They need help reintegrating in how to get back into their jobs.”
Statistics show that female service members have much higher rates of divorce and are more likely to be a single parent. When they do seek help at VA medical centers, they are screening positive at a higher rate for military sexual trauma, meaning they indicated experiencing sexual harassment, assault or rape.
Some studies have shown that female veterans are at greater risk for homelessness. The VA estimates that about 10 percent of homeless veterans are women.
The Veterans Administration has said it recognizes it needs to do more to improve care for these veterans, and as part of changes in the works, female coordinators are in place at each medical center to give women an advocate.
“Most of us, because we were women service members, are so used to not complaining and not voicing our issues, because in the military that's considered weak,” Chase told the AP. “Nobody wants to hear the girl whine.”