Friday, March 18, 2011

Desert Storm Females are part American Women Veteran Org

We will never know the exact number of military women who return home from Desert Storm Era deplyment suffering from chronic multisympthoms illness.
That alone put strain marriages. Now divorced and ill it is much harder to work as head of household. Why has the VA and other Veterans Service Organizations
undererestimated the suport services our women veterans would need. We are still
suffering the consequences till very day.

For women in military, divorce is common enemy

Two failed marriages were the cost of war for Sgt. Jennifer Schobey.

The breaking point in her first marriage came when her husband deployed to Afghanistan, the last in a long line of separations they had endured as they juggled two military careers. Schobey married another combat veteran, but that union failed under the weight of two cases of post-traumatic stress disorder — his and hers. They are now getting divorced.

Separations. Injuries. Mental-health issues. All are added weights to the normal strains of marriage.

For women in the military, there's a cold reality: Their marriages are more than twice as likely to end in divorce as those of their male comrades — and for enlisted women, the figure is nearly three times higher.

About 220,000 women have served in Afghanistan and Iraq in roles ranging from helicopter pilots to police officers. Last year, 7.8 percent of women in the military got a divorce, compared with 3 percent of military men, according to Pentagon statistics. Among the military's enlisted corps, meaning they aren't commissioned officers, nearly 9 percent of women saw their marriages end, compared with a little more than 3 percent of the men.

Research indicates that military women also get divorced at higher rates than their peers outside the military, but military men divorce at lower rates than their peers, according to a journal article published last year by Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Brookings Institution. Directly comparing divorce rates between the military and civilian sectors is difficult because of the way the numbers are kept.

The percentage of military women getting a divorce has been consistently higher for at least a decade. Like all divorces, the results can be a sense of loss and a financial blow. For military women, a divorce can be a breaking point — even putting them at greater risk of homelessness down the road.

It has an effect, too, on military kids. The military has more single moms than dads, and an estimated 30,000 of them have deployed in support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Why military women are more burdened by divorce is unclear, although societal pressure is likely a factor.

"It's a strange situation, where there's a fair amount of equality in terms of their military roles," said David Segal, director of the Center for Research on Military Organization at the University of Maryland. "As the military increasingly treats women the same as it treats men in terms of their work expectations, however, society still expects them to fulfill their family roles. And that's not equally balanced between men and women."

One notion is that although more traditional men join the military, women who are attracted to military life are less conventional — and perhaps less willing to stay in a bad marriage.

About half of all married women in the military are married to a fellow service member, compared with less than 10 percent of military men. Although it can be an advantage to be married to someone who understands military life, balancing two military careers poses challenges.

Former Army Sgt. Daniela Gibson, an Afghan war veteran, knows that. Gibson, 24, spent more than four years apart from her military husband and thousands of dollars on long-distance phone calls as they each did war deployments, training and moves. She said it's tough to not feel insecure about your own marriage as you watch others falling apart around you and see fellow service members cheating on their spouses, which she says is all too frequent during deployments.

"Even just rumors of cheating can really affect you," Gibson said.

Gibson left the military after she got pregnant. She is now raising their 1-year-old in Mannheim, Germany, while her husband continues his military career. Fortunately, she said, they were able to make their marriage work.

"It was really hard. We've gone through a lot of difficult points in the relationship, and sometimes we weren't even sure how it was going to end up. But at the end I think it made us closer because it kind of made us prove to ourselves how much we wanted it," Gibson said. "We weren't about to just give up."

Female service members married to civilians face their own challenges. The rate of divorce of military women is higher for those married to civilians, said Benjamin Karney, a UCLA psychology professor who studied the issue for the Rand Corp. Research has found that husbands of female service members were less likely to be employed than military wives.

"You've got to look at the realities of what military life is like on the family, and it really is kind of set up around a traditional married model of a husband and a wife that runs the house, if you will," said Kimberly Olson, a retired Air Force colonel who leads Grace After Fire, a support organization for female veterans.

When divorce does happen, it only adds to the stress faced by an already stressed-out population.

Staff Sgt. Robin D. Duncan-Chisolm, 47, of Upper Marlboro, Md., was deployed to Iraq last year with the District of Columbia National Guard while she was getting a divorce. She said she worried the entire time that she would lose custody of her teenaged son or lose the house she and her husband had shared.

"I was able to smile … but inside I had a lot of turmoil I needed to have resolved, things I needed to bring closure to," Duncan-Chisolm said.

She credits her friendships and support in the Guard with helping her get through the divorce. She and her son were able to take advantage of support programs offered through the Guard's Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program to help with her transition home.

Former Army Sgt. 1st Class Tashawnya McCullough, 38, said she didn't have that support when she returned from Iraq in 2004 to her post in Germany. Divorced at the time from a service member she says cheated on her, lonely and struggling with her combat experience, she turned to alcohol. It took two months for her to get her girls, then ages 4 and 11, from the United States, where one lived with her ex-husband and the other with friends.

"My home was so quiet it drove me nuts, and I was by myself. It really affected me horribly. I was not doing well," McCullough said. "I was just trying to not feel or think about anything. I had a really hard time with drinking."

McCullough eventually got help for her drinking, remarried and found work in Texas with Grace After Fire helping other female veterans.

Each of the military services today offers a variety of programs focused on strengthening or enriching marriage. The Army, for example, offers a program called Strong Bonds, which provides relationship help to married couples as well as single soldiers. It also offers "resiliency" classes for spouses of both sexes.

Despite these efforts, Christina Roof, national acting legislative director of AMVETS, said there are not enough programs targeting divorce among female service members. She said some husbands just don't feel comfortable being surrounded by wives as part of military family support programs, but they need to be educated about issues their wives may face when they return from war.

"I think that stress of a woman coming home … and the man having no real training of someone sitting down and saying this is what it might be like when your wife gets back — that's just a recipe for disaster," Roof said.

Genevieve Chase, a staff sergeant in the Army Reserves who founded American Women Veterans, said she hears complaints from female service members who say how hard it is for their civilian husbands to understand what they do and feel accepted. "Unfortunately, male military spouses don't get any credit or recognition," she said.