By Debbie Gregory.
Female military veterans run a 250% higher risk than civilian women for suicide, a startling finding that experts say poses disturbing questions about the backgrounds and experiences of women who serve in the armed forces.
Though suicide has become a major issue for the military over the last decade, most research by the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs has been focused on men.
Research regarding women in the military, especially in combat roles, is still a new and emerging area. Though the U.S. military has long provided camaraderie and a sense of purpose to men, it has been a harsher place for women.
Risk factors for female servicemember/veteran suicide may include: deployments in hostile environments, exposure to extreme stress, physical or sexual assault while in the service and service related injuries. In addition, there are also general risk factors such as alcohol or substance abuse, homelessness, financial problems, relationship issues.
The VA’s currently has the following suicide prevention initiatives and resources for women veterans in place:
- Regional and national residential inpatient programs that either provide treatment to women only or have separate tracks for women and men.
- Outpatient mental health services through VA medical centers, Vet Centers, community-based outreach clinics and partnerships with other local treatment providers across the country.
- Evidence-based therapies for PTSD that have been shown to decrease suicidal ideation, available at every VA medical center.
- Support for treating the effects of military sexual trauma.
Establishing mental health programs that are effective for women veterans will go a long way in ensuring they are receiving the best care possible, hopefully turning this issue around.