The Untold Story of our Female Veterans

In the last decade, the number of women serving in the armed forces has increased dramatically. There are some 1.9 million women veterans today, many of whom (for the first time in history) are combat veterans. It is estimated by the Department of Veterans Affairs that another 50,000 service women will be joining their ranks in the next five years. This unprecedented story is not well known because it is not often told.

As a Vietnam-era veteran, I am stunned by these numbers. Yes, we had women nurses serving with great distinction, dedication, and courage in major field hospitals and the like, but none were going out on patrols or serving in any combat-related positions. Today things are quite different.

Now we have growing numbers of women in direct combat roles on the ground, in the air, and at sea. We are seeing large numbers of women coming home with the devastating wounds of combat. They are experiencing the traumatic brain injuries and amputations that are related to the much-used IEDs in both Iraq and Afghanistan. They are coming home with PTSD issues associated with what was, until now, the sole domain of men who were engaged in the raw and vicious realities of war on the front lines. These women are conducting themselves with the same kind of courage under fire and total commitment that their brothers-in-arms have always been known for.

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These young women, who have seen war up close and personal, come home to many of the same issues and hurdles of reentry into civilian life as their male counterparts, but theirs is a different road.

When they come back, many will pick up where they left off as mothers, wives and caretakers. Many, though, will have to deal with the demands of mothering, nurturing, and care taking while still struggling with the lingering effects of war.

The VA is also struggling to cope with this new phenomenon. For example, many VA hospitals do not have child care facilities. Many servicewomen who seek rehabilitation care or counseling for PTSD have to make choices between attending their appointments or meeting the everyday demands of raising and caring for their children. This can make their recovery even more complicated, both for their own immediate physical and psychological needs and for the needs of their families.

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Our servicewomen today have sacrificed their time, their families, and their lives in the same ways that our servicemen have. They are proving themselves worthy in every way, but their struggles have dimensions that we have never had to deal with before. We need to honor these veterans with a deepened commitment. We need to develop and offer the unique kinds of services they need as women veterans so that they too can reenter civilian life as whole, healthy, well-supported veterans.

The fact is, some of the homeless veterans in need of the programs supported by this website are women. A society that asks so much of our young male and female warriors owes even more to them for the willing self-sacrifice they make when asked. Let us honor these 1.9 million women veterans with our care, our thanks, and our commitment to help them transition back into civilian life with as much ease as possible.

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.