Online Program

Women veterans' definitions and experiences of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan

Tuesday, November 5, 2013 : 8:30 a.m. - 8:55 a.m.

Jessica Strong, MSW, Graduate School of Social Work, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Patricia A. Findley, DrPH, MSW, School of Social Work, Rutgers,The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, NJ
Beth Angell, PhD, MSSW, Graduate School of Social Work, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Background More than 100,000 women have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and have faced a greater exposure to combat than ever before. Changing policy in this area will soon open up direct combat positions to women, making their exposure to combat even greater. This new generation of female veterans is not yet well understood, and a beginning step to understanding their needs is to understand their experiences. Objective This qualitative, exploratory study examines what experiences female veterans defined as combat and how they describe those experiences. Methods Semi-structured interviews with 12 female veterans provided data on definitions of combat and self-identification as combat veteran, descriptors of and types of combat experiences, and the thoughts, feelings, bodily response and actions of the veterans during their combat experiences. Results Findings included heterogenous definitions of combat and combat veteran, and a variety of experiences female veterans considered to be combat. Female veterans also reported an array of thoughts and feelings during the combat experiences, including fear and helplessness, but also guilt, pride, focus, shock, anxiety, excitement, annoyance, calm, and vulnerability. Descriptions of their responses during the combat experiences were categorized as “following protocol or training” and “caring for others.” Discussion Practitioners working with female veterans should understand differing definitions of combat, and should allow the veteran to define their own experiences. Practitioners should also be prepared for and sensitive to a variety of descriptions of combat experiences, and allow the female veteran to describe their own experiences, both positive and negative.

Learning Areas:

Diversity and culture
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Define “combat” as described by women veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Describe combat experiences of women veterans in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Keyword(s): Veterans, Women

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have designed, developed and executed as principal investigator a research study within the East Orange VA examining women veterans' experiences of combat. I am completing a PhD in Social work with a focus on military veterans, particularly female veterans.
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.