Finding gender equality in the military has long been a source of contention. The number of sexual crimes has risen exponentially in conjunction with more women enlisting, which seems to be a growing topic of contention, even if it is not being directly addressed. There have been debates on whether women should be allowed to hold any position in the military, especially those that involve physical combat. In fact, just this March, the Defense Department rescinded the Direct Combat Exclusion Rule. This removal of gender barriers to service commits the U.S. military to integrating women into many military positions that were previously closed to them by January 1, 2016, opening upwards of 200,000 new opportunities for servicewomen. The same news release from the Department of Defense states that 15% of our country's active personnel are women.
But what happens after their service? Often, the image the word "veterans" conjures up is men returning triumphantly from war to cheering crowds and a gracious nation. Today, as women's role in the military grows daily, we must assimilate the female veteran into our schema. And the female veteran seems to be doing better than her male counterpart. In a recent Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, 54% of women who had served in the armed forces surveyed rated their lives as "thriving," surpassing the 44% of male veterans who felt the same. Based on their ranking of their current and future lives on a scale of 1-10, participants were labeled as "thriving," "struggling," or "suffering."
The poll, which was conducted over a year and sampled 353,561 Americans, included 48,690 veterans. Gallup and Healthways initiated this index in 2008, which breaks down the American standard of living into multiple categories including life evaluation, emotional health, physical health, healthy behaviors, work environment, and basic access (to essentials such as running water). However, what is interesting is that 24% of men in the U.S. are veterans, while only 2% of women are veterans (Gallup), with an understandably high degree of variance due to age. This reflects historical patterns. The Women Veterans Population Fact Sheet says there are 1,840,380 women veterans in the United States. The ratio of male to female veterans will undoubtedly change with the countermanding of the Direct Combat Exclusion Rule and as the oldest range of veterans (who are predominantly male) die off.
Additionally, this same survey found that women veterans had more similar opinions about their quality to life compared to male veterans. This points to the tendency of women to be optimistic. As this survey asked Americans to rate their own lives, we must account for some personal bias. However countless studies, including this same index, find women (veteran and non-veteran alike) to be more hopeful about their situation.
Considering the veteran mindset is increasingly vital in today's world where the average soldier is serving multiple tours and we are getting more information about just how damaging this can be to the psyche. While women rate their own lives as flourishing, emerging facts may tell us otherwise. A recent New York Times article explained how returning servicewomen are the fastest growing portion of the homeless population. The homeless veteran is not a new phenomenon, but studies indicate that sexual abuse in the military is a common pathway to homelessness, and a much higher proportion of women suffer sexual abuse in the military then men. So, whether or not female veterans are actually better off then their male counterparts, we can be certain that the demographic of the military is changing and there are rules that need to change along with it.