206048 In their own voices: Female veterans and the experience of war

Monday, November 9, 2009: 11:35 AM

Anne Demers, EdD, MPH , Department of Health Science, San Jose State University, San Jose, CA
Women are serving in combat in unprecedented numbers, and this experience leaves both physical and psychological scars. Military personnel stationed in Iraq are particularly vulnerable to the long-lasting effects of an environment where a lack of clear enemy lines and threats on all sides require a constant state of vigilance. For women, this is heightened by the need to remain observant of their male counterparts. The transition home is fraught with difficulties, including coming to terms with actions one has taken while deployed, actions taken against one while deployed, multiple losses of fellow soldiers, and relationship issues.

A focus group (N=11) and one-to-one interviews were conducted with female veterans to uncover their experiences of war, illuminate the psychological consequences of them and reveal their impact on veterans' ability to reintegrate into U.S. society.

Veterans described experiences of isolation, lack of support from male comrades, and feelings of “emotional rape every day” while in the war zone. Most participants discussed struggling with identity, and more than half reported suffering from anxiety, depression, and/or PTSD. Moreover, most participants indicated that the VA had not been accommodating, i.e., screenings were not done, appointments were difficult to obtain, and counselors were not helpful. None of the participants reported receiving other forms of support.

War is a public health issue, yet little is known about its effects on female veterans. This exploratory study provides directions for future research and illuminates service and program needs for both veterans and their families.

Learning Objectives:
Participants will be able to describe the psychological effects of war and reintegration on female veterans.

Keywords: Women, Veterans' Health

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am the PI on the research.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.