Female Veterans And PTSD: Forgotten Victims?

MEMORIAL DAY-Female Veterans And PTSD: Forgotten Victims?
Flikr- Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) California National Guard 11/17/10

As we honor and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation on this – and every – Memorial Day, we also often talk about the vets still with us. While it might not be the “proper” day for such talk, we still want to honor their courage, bravery, and service to our nation.

One of the most serious issues that veterans who have served in combat zones can face upon returning home is the onset of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

We hear a lot about how male veterans deal with PTSD, but we don’t talk as much about the experiences of female veterans, and how they deal with this life-altering condition.

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PTSD In Women

As more women in the military experience combat, the numbers are quite surprising.

According to Military.com, women, at 10%, are twice as likely to be diagnosed with PTSD as men at just 4%. Some of the reasons for those higher incidences in women include women experiencing more occurrences of sexual assault, which is the leading cause of PTSD for women in the military.

Women are also more inclined to blame themselves for the traumatic event they experience. Female veterans are also more prone to the development of PTSD if they have incidences of sexual assault in the past, they became injured during the event, or the event was especially severe or life-threatening.

Symptoms of PTSD also present differently in women as opposed to male veterans. Women may experience jumpiness, trouble feeling emotions, and avoid reminders of the event. Men are more prone to anger issues.

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Emerging Treatment For Female Vets

PTSD in female veterans is beginning to be recognized as something that occurs, and needs to be tailored to female vets. SOF Missions, based in Tampa, Florida, provides free treatment for male and female vet nationwide.

But what is different about SOF Missions is that in April, they hosted an all-female, five-day intensive wellness retreat. It is the only all-female clinic for women in the military. The work of places like SOF Missions hits close to home for The Political Insider’s own Kathleen Anderson, an Air Force veteran and Bronze Star recipient, who battles PTSD.

Kathleen said of her service in the military, life after, and dealing with PTSD,

“The reality is that separating or retiring from the military is jarring for any veteran, but in many ways can have different effects on female veterans. As a 20 year combat veteran I found even in the year 2021 when I retired many everyday Americans still found it surprising a woman could serve that long and do the things I had done. An area that my fellow sisters in arms feel the biggest divide is diagnosis and treatment of PTSD. Many of us live with PTSD from our combat experiences, but an alarming amount of us also carry military sexual trauma PTSD and the like. Finding counselors and programs that address our unique experiences and also provide us a sense of our own community is difficult but paramount.”

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New Ways To Battle PTSD In Female Vets

In addition to what might be considered traditional treatment for vets, both male and female in treating PTSD, some new ideas are coming about specifically designed for female veterans.

Trauma Center Trauma-Sensitive Yoga (TCTSY) pinpoints the effects of stress on the nervous system. TCTSY is believed to reduce the effects of PTSD by creating a connection between the body and the mind, and restoring one’s sense of ownership over emotions.

While there was some skepticism about the use of Yoga in vets with PTSD, early studies show that yoga therapy is just as effective as cognitive processing therapy (CPT). The research found that both methods were effective, those in the yoga group were seeing results by mid-intervention. 

Veterans therapy study: Hill & Ponton, “The Silent Battle: Fostering Accessibility and Support for Veteran Mental Health Care”

Another successful treatment for female veterans is a place called “Serenity Ranch.” Started in 2018, it was designed for not just female vets, but also law enforcement and first responders as well.

Founder Lisa Ledoux explains the mission behind Serenity Ranch: “Our aim is to help women cope with PTSD and other conditions by developing new ways to approach these problems.”

Six to eight women are paired up with a horse based on their size, experiences with horses, and personality. Ledoux says, “The women are responsible for the horses’ care, feeding, grooming, riding, and just spending time with them.”

When they are not with the horses, the women partake in other activities like yoga, journaling, and just sharing the events that brought them to the ranch seeking help. 

The treatment of PTSD in female veterans is an issue that is not going away, but is finally beginning to be talked about and programs coming along specifically with the female veteran in mind. Helping all of those who have sacrificed a portion of their lives in service to our nation come home to resume happy healthy lives is just one way we can say thank you. 

*My thanks to my colleague Kathleen Anderson for her service to our country, and her help with this story!

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