Service Members and Veteran Women's Health
Women service members' and veterans' health and well-being are paramount for our military forces' strength and readiness and our nation's prosperity. Women make up approximately 16% of the active-duty military and are the fastest-growing group within the veteran community1. This increasing presence underscores the importance of understanding and addressing their unique health needs.
Women in the military face a myriad of health challenges, some of which are similar to their male counterparts, while others are distinct to women. These include physical injuries, mental health disorders, sexual trauma, and reproductive and gynecological health issues.
Combat exposure can lead to physical injuries, such as musculoskeletal disorders. Studies show that women veterans are likelier than men to report chronic pain conditions2. Mental health disorders like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression are also prevalent among female veterans, often linked to combat stress and Military Sexual Trauma (MST).
MST, defined by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment during military service, is a significant issue affecting women service members. An estimated one in four women report experiencing MST3. This contributes to mental health disorders and can lead to physical health problems.
Reproductive and gynecological health is another area that requires attention. Women service members and veterans have unique health needs, including prenatal care, infertility treatments, and menopause management. There's also an increased risk of urinary tract infections due to field conditions. 4
The VA has made strides in addressing these health concerns. In 2008, it launched the Women's Health Services office to improve the health and healthcare of women veterans5. The VA offers gender-specific services such as mammograms and Pap smears, primary care, mental health care, and specialty care services.
Despite these efforts, many challenges remain. Access to care, particularly in rural areas, is a significant issue. Moreover, the VA and the Department of Defense need to continue their efforts to create an environment where women feel safe and respected.
In conclusion, addressing the health needs of women service members and veterans is crucial. Continued research, policy development, and resource allocation are necessary to ensure their health and well-being.