Women have been an important part of the military since the American Revolution. In the past, they served in medical, intelligence, and clerical roles. In more recent military operations, women have moved into supporting roles–providing protection, searching women for weapons and other non-combat roles.
Called “battle fatigue” and “shell shock” until formally recognized in 1980, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has been recognized in servicemen since World War II. Originally studied in men, it is now apparent that women are twice as likely as men to suffer from PTSD, while men are more likely to develop substance abuse issues. Regardless of those facts, statistics on the men and women returning from war in Iraq and Afghanistan show that the number of veterans returning from war with PTSD is increasing.
Women compose 20% of the current military and experience traumatic stress, just like men. Women are being wounded and killed, just like men. They are developing PTSD, just like men.
PTSD is defined as an anxiety disorder experienced following a traumatic event. Combat is one of the publicized causes of PTSD; others are sexual assault and rape, all things women are exposed to in the military.
A recent CNN article chronicles the story of a female soldier returning from Iraq in 2003 and the struggle she has had with PTSD since she gone through. For her, it is a constant battle against the emotions of the situations she experienced while in Iraq, situations that are unlikely to occur in the United States. It is a constant battle with no cure.
As the debate is over the role of women in the military continues in the government, articles are being published about the merits of opening up combat roles to women and how the rules are being bent to allow women to do jobs outside of the current restrictions. All of this is working toward gender equality for GI Jane.
The reality of gender equality in the military is coming, and with that equality we can expect more servicewomen to suffer from PTSD upon return to civilian life.