By Michelle Balani
http://t.co/XDBnRvV via @thegrio
American soldiers salute while the national anthem is played during a ceremony marking Veterans Day at the U.S. Camp Eggers in Kabul, Afghanistan (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)
When President Barack Obama announced that he would be bringing back the 33,000 troops serving in Afghanistan by the summer of 2012, the news was welcomed with great anticipation. And while this announcement caused military families across the nation to breathe a sigh of relief, for many soldiers coming back home, their battles will be far from over.
This is particularly true for women soldiers with physical and mental wounds of war, as transitioning back into civilian life is wrought with uncertainties and a lack of adequate resources available to address their specific needs. Female military members make up about 15 percent of our active armed forces, and a report released in December 2010 by the Veterans Administration's Office of Inspector General found that women soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have a more difficult time reintegrating back into society and are more likely to be diagnosed with mental-health conditions than male soldiers.
"For any veteran, it is a very tough time, going from war, being with people who understand what it's like and what you're going through to feeling almost alone and not understood by anyone," said J. Ashwin Madia, Interim Chairman of VoteVets.org, a veteran advocacy group. "Less than one percent of America has served in the wars we're in, and even fewer women. So, for women to re-enter society, it can be a very solitary experience. Homelessness is also a huge issue and there's a very strong link between PTSD and homelessness among veterans of all generations."
Out of the 150,000 women who have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002, 23 percent of them are African-American. Sydney Lee, the president of the African American PTSD Association, says that black women in combat zones have higher rates of PTSD, and they are often victims of assaults that are never reported. With only 15 Veterans Affairs centers across the country providing residential mental-health treatment specifically for women with PTSD, is the nation adequately prepared to serve the unique needs of this population, and help them make a successful transition back to the lives they once knew?
"Reintegration is difficult for all veterans," adds Colleen Corliss, communications manager at the Iraq veterans program for Swords to Plowshares. "For those suffering from PTSD, military sexual trauma or other mental illness from service, the average wait time for an initial decision for disability benefits and proper treatment is 161 days, which is plenty of time for a veteran's life to spiral out of control."
Veterans who don't seek timely medical or psychological intervention often numb their pain by using drugs or alcohol, which usually leads to more problems like homelessness and suicide. Corliss adds that women veterans are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than non-veteran women.
Unemployment is another issue for soldiers returning back home. A report released by the U.S. Census Bureau in April 2011 found that "Post 9/11 veterans may face temporary employment problems as they first enter the labor market after their military enlistment ends due to imperfect knowledge of the civilian job market and difficulty translating military skills into civilian terms for employers."
The lack of transferable skills can cause a veteran to be unemployed for some time, and this can contribute to them being homeless, which is four times more likely for women veterans than for non-veterans.