Mental Health Needs of Women Veterans

May 8, 2013

sw[Referencing “Mental Health Issues in Recently Returning Women Veterans: Implications for Practice,” Bonnie E. Carlson, Layne K. Stromwall, and Cynthia A. Lietz, Social Work, Vol. 58, No. 2 (April 2013), pp. 105-113.]

Women are joining the military in increasing numbers, and they are now performing roles similar to those of male service members. As a result, more women service members and veterans have been exposed to stressful and traumatic experiences, such as combat and difficult living circumstances, and military sexual trauma has become increasingly common. Naturally, these experiences have consequences for the mental health of women service members and veterans, including increasing instances of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and substance abuse. Sometimes these problems are made worse by physical injuries, including traumatic brain injury (TBI).

While women service members and veterans have access to health services through the military and the Department of Veterans Affairs, often they do not seek help through these outlets. Therefore the authors of a recent article in Social Work call for community-based social workers to become familiar with the needs of the growing population of women service members and veterans in order to serve them more effectively.

For example, the recent conflicts involving U.S. military personnel, in Iraq and Afghanistan, are unique in several respects:

  • They involve multiple, longer and more indeterminate deployments, resulting in more stressful family situations
  • The deployment pattern allows less time for personnel to recover as they prepare for their next deployment
  • Due to improved body armor and medical technologies, a smaller proportion of service members have been killed or injured, but more soldiers have been exposed to combat
  • More injured soldiers have survived, but also have returned home to deal with problems related to the injuries sustained
  • More women have been deployed, and more are serving in roles similar to male service members, which has led to an increase in gender-specific stressors, such as sexual harassment and sexual assault (both referred to collectively as “military sexual trauma” [MST])

Carlson, Stromwell and Lietz stress that social workers need to familiarize themselves with the unique circumstances of military-related issues in order to help their clients. Social workers need training in dealing with the fallout of deployment stress, depression, TBI, PTSD, and MST. The authors also recommend several validated assessments and therapies that social workers can use to treat these clients. Furthermore, they stress urgency in dealing with this constituency whose numbers are increasing.

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