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The Untold Story of Our Female Veterans

The number of women serving in the armed forces in the last decade has increased dramatically.  There are some 1.9 million women veterans today, many of whom, like no other time in our history, are also counted as combat veterans.  It is estimated by the Department of Veterans Affairs that another 50,000 service women will be joining the ranks of our veterans in the next five years.  This is an unprecedented story that is not well known, because it is not often well told.

As a Vietnam era veteran, I am stunned by the numbers here.  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 with us, or serving in any combat related positions.  Today things are quite changed.  

Today 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 our 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 commitment to their brothers, and now, sisters-in-arms that we have always associated with our returning male veterans in previous wars.  

These young women, who have been to war and seen it 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 too.  

When they come back, many will pick up where they left off, as mothers, wives and caretakers.  Many, though, will deal with the natural 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.  Many VA hospitals do not have child care facilities, for example.  Many of these servicewomen, who seek rehabilitation care or are getting counseling for PTSD, have to make choices between attending their appointments and the everyday demands of raising and caring for their children. This can make their recoveries even more complicated, both for themselves and their immediate physical and psychological needs, and for the healthy care and the normal needs of their families.  

Our servicewomen today have sacrificed their time, their families, and their lives in the same ways that our servicemen have.  They are proving themselves 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 to them.  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, and well-supported veterans.  

The fact is that today we are finding that some of the homeless veterans in need of the programs that this site is supporting are female veterans.  A society that asks so much of our young male and female warriors owes even more to them for the willing, self-sacrificing service they gave for us 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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