Women In The Military: Underutilized During, Neglected AfterS

Are women in the U.S. military getting full opportunities to serve their country? And are they getting adequate support upon their return from combat zones? It won't surprise you that the answer is no, not really.

According to military experts Donna McAleer and Erin Solaro's op-ed in The Washington Post, "twenty-five percent of military jobs are not open to women, and those jobs lead disproportionately to higher command." They do see some positive signs: women may be integrated into the submarine fleet, and in their minds "the feared 'disasters' [of female soldiers in combat zones] did not materialize." But they cite, disapprovingly, Tom Ricks' reporting that the U.S. is underutilizing its female soldiers in Afghanistan, showing that "one of the chief barriers to fully utilizing servicewomen in counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan is not Afghan but American attitudes... female soldiers and Marines have reportedly had more success gaining access to Afghan women than male troops have had."

Those women who do end up in the line of fire often face dismissive attitudes upon their return, compounding their sense of isolation, according to the AP. Reporter Kimberly Hefling's series on the struggles of women veterans shows that while women are on the front lines more than ever, their service is often seen as less significant than their male peers. Women veterans are also increasingly ending up on the streets, according to Hefling:

The number [of homeless female veterans] has doubled in the past decade, and there are an estimated 6,500 homeless female veterans on any given night - about 5 percent of the total homeless veterans population.

The few treatment centers devoted to women have learned that when it comes to treating post-combat trauma, men and women face different problems, and that "the women's issues were more complex and required longer treatment." While some of their traumatic experiences were shared, women were found to need space to deal with their particular situations:

They also found that men and women in the same structure didn't work. A majority of the women had experienced sexual trauma and craved privacy. Some became involved with the men, which complicated their treatment. They were moved to their own building in 2005.

Female Vets Face Homelessness, Dearth of Services [AP]
Back From Combat, Women Struggle For Acceptance [AP]
Full Participation For Our 'Sisters-In-Arms' [Washington Post]