Despite joining the U.S. armed forces at higher rates than at any time since WWII, women are still severely underrepresented across all military service branches, representing only about 16% of service members. Though today’s military is much more integrated along gender lines than at any time in the past, and women are no longer excluded from serving in combat, the experiences of male and female service members are often vastly inequitable.
The Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services has found that women leave the military at higher rates than their male counterparts due to sexism-related issues. Others may feel called to serve their country, but quit before they have a chance to get promoted to higher ranks because they feel the military lifestyle is incompatible with their desire to start a family.
Military Sexual Trauma and Gender Discrimination
While deployed, women routinely face challenges that put them at risk for victimization and isolation. Women are far more likely than men to face sexual assault, harassment and discrimination in the line of duty. These problems create a toxic work environment that can lead to chronic stress and related health issues like high blood pressure, insomnia, depression, anxiety and PTSD. Indeed, military sexual trauma puts women at an even higher risk of developing PTSD than serving in combat does.
Despite this correlation, the VA grants PTSD benefits to a significantly smaller percentage of female claimants. This disparity stems largely from the difficulties of substantiating experiences of military sexual assault and harassment. Many assault victims never report the offense, and some of those who file reports opt for a restricted mode that prevents official investigation.
Female Veterans and Homelessness
Transitioning into civilian life can be a challenge for anyone after experiencing the structure and tight-knit culture of the military, but it’s especially hard on women. Due in part to veterans outreach services that remain primarily male-focused, women veterans who return home from overseas deployments are especially vulnerable to homelessness, mental illness and substance abuse.
Many of the skills women learn in the military do not translate well into the civilian workforce, and women who lack the resources to find a job after leaving the military may become unhoused because they don’t have other options. Additionally, women with children might have a hard time finding a shelter that will take in their entire family because of space constraints. Homeless women veterans have traditionally had difficulty accessing housing services due to safety and privacy concerns.
Learning to Walk With Integrity and Grace
If you are a veteran, you should be proud to have served your country and worn its flag, and there’s no reason to feel ashamed about asking for help when you need it. At Canyon Crossing, we have designed our women’s-only programming as a safe space to work through sexual trauma, mental illness and substance use disorders. We accept TRICARE and provide the accountability and structure that are essential to living a sober, healthy life. To learn more about what we offer, please reach out to us today.