Will the Military Be Ready to Deal with PTSD in Women?

The U.S. military announced the end of its policy excluding women from combat and will open combat jobs and direct combat units to female troops. The historic change overturns a 1994 rule prohibiting women from being assigned to smaller ground combat units. Many questions remain unanswered, especially in regards to how this change will actually be implemented. Among the numerous questions involved in this transition: Will direct combat stress levels effect women differently than men?

After last week’s fatal shooting of Chris Kyle, a retired Navy SEAL and author of the book American Sniper, we are once again reminded of the lingering emotional effects from military service. Kyle was attempting to help Eddie Ray Routh, a 25-year-old Marine reservist, who had been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder. It can occur after you've seen or experienced a traumatic event that involved the threat of injury or death such as an interpersonal event like physical or sexual assault, exposure to disaster or accidents, combat or witnessing a traumatic event. Symptoms include continually re-living the event, emotional numbing or debilitation from a combination of the first two symptoms.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, both psychological therapy (counseling) and pharmacotherapy (drugs) have been used to treat PTSD and guidelines suggest that a combination of both may mean people recover from PTSD more effectively. Their research included four trials following 124 participants. The trials all used anti-depressants and prolonged exposure or a cognitive behavioral intervention. The study concluded that “there is not enough evidence available to support or refute the effectiveness of combined psychological therapy and pharmacotherapy compared to either of these interventions alone.” Dr. Farris Tuma, with the National Institute of Health, acknowledged that many suffering from PTSD are "essentially using their own experience and maybe something they've read about. But the bottom line is ... we don't have good guidance for them."

As the military expands the role of women to include direct combat, what do we know about their ability to handle the increased stress? Previous research has looked at the effects of “all types of potentially traumatic events” on women, such as sexual assault and car accidents, and found that women are more than twice as likely to develop PTSD than men. However, a new study by Dawne Vogt, a MED associate professor of psychiatry and a researcher at the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the VA Boston Healthcare System, found no such disparity in trauma from combat. But the study only included 340 women and 252 men who had returned from deployment within the previous year, quizzing them about any symptoms of depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental health impairment. And while servicewomen have certainly been exposed to a variety of positions that put them at risk, they have not previously been engaged in direct ground combat positions, so there is basically no empirical data to measure the effects.

Many questions remain about the expansion of women into direct combat. Will women be assigned to combat units or allowed to volunteer? In the unlikely event the U.S. would re-institute a draft, would female direct combat duty be automatic? In the midst of all the unknowns related to the policy change, the question remains: Is the military prepared to deal with the potential increase of PTSD in female soldiers? Considering their current inadequacy in treating PTSD in men, I am less than confident that the answer to that question is “yes.”  

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Elaine Hays

Hi, my name is Elaine Hays and I am a political, financial and economic junkie. I love reading and listening to the news, interpreting what I am hearing and then discussing it with those around me. Sometimes they agree with me and sometimes they don’t, but I thoroughly enjoy the dialogue. I am a CFP (Certified Financial Planner) and my husband, Tracy, is a CPA. We own a private wealth management firm that helps clients identify and then achieve their financial goals. We have co-authored two books, When God We Trust and Avoiding the Top Ten Money Mistakes. We have been married for 27 years and have four fantastic children – Taylor, Rachel, Ryan and Caleb. (And now a wonderful son-in-law, Joshua!) As a conservative, Christian woman, my world-view has a biblical perspective. I rely on scriptural truths to define my ideas of life, family and the role of government and you will see that expressed in my writing. I’m passionate about learning and began my post-high school education with a BBA in Marketing from Texas Christian University. At the age of 40 I returned to school and earned a Master of Science in Finance/Economics from West Texas A&M. At the age of 50, I began working on and completed 51 doctoral hours in Economics from Texas Tech University. My husband is a bit nervous to see what happens when I turn 60. We elect politicians who set policies that govern our economy. We make choices to spend, save or share money with others. All of these decisions have consequences, positive and negative, and our goal is to avoid the negatives. By pursuing knowlege on personal finances, economic principles and the impact of government policy on our daily lives, we become equipped to make better decisions. And the more we educate ourselves, the more we have to pass on to your children and grandchildren – literally.

MORE FROM

Tomi Lahren wants to rally women to her side after criticizing feminists and "pro-choicers"

"My view on abortion is not black-and-white," Lahren said.

These 5 states are drafting laws to limit protests on college campuses

The legislation is intended to protect free speech on campus.

California bans state-funded travel to Texas, 3 more states because of anti-LGBTQ laws

California isn't keen on sending people to these anti-LGBTQ states.

US military officials seek to delay allowing transgender people to enlist

The U.S. military was given until July 1, 2017, to begin allowing transgender people to enlist.

High school senior recreates Beyoncé's 'Lemonade' album cover for his graduation cap

This is a cap that Queen Bey would be proud of.

No, James Comey did not make an incognito visit to the 'New York Times'

Comey was attending a charity event to benefit foster children at another company.

Tomi Lahren wants to rally women to her side after criticizing feminists and "pro-choicers"

"My view on abortion is not black-and-white," Lahren said.

These 5 states are drafting laws to limit protests on college campuses

The legislation is intended to protect free speech on campus.

California bans state-funded travel to Texas, 3 more states because of anti-LGBTQ laws

California isn't keen on sending people to these anti-LGBTQ states.

US military officials seek to delay allowing transgender people to enlist

The U.S. military was given until July 1, 2017, to begin allowing transgender people to enlist.

High school senior recreates Beyoncé's 'Lemonade' album cover for his graduation cap

This is a cap that Queen Bey would be proud of.

No, James Comey did not make an incognito visit to the 'New York Times'

Comey was attending a charity event to benefit foster children at another company.