Women and PTSD

In a post last week on two articles from the November-December issue of the Washington Monthly that mainly focused on Stephanie Mencimer’s evaluation of the Jamie Leigh Jones case, I also briefly mentioned Laura Kasinof’s report on growing controversies surrounding the incidence and causes of post-traumatic stress disorder among women in the military.

If you didn’t read Kasinof’s piece then, you should now. It provides a good historical overview of how the military has sought to limit the combat exposure of personnel–not just women, but men–with family responsibilities, and its gradual acceptance of women in harm’s way, and now in combat roles. And it deals with the mixed evidence of gender differences in the risk of and adjustment to PTSD, which in the case of women often also involves Military Sexual Trauma (MST), experiences of sexual harassment or assault.

So what’s the right thing to do? Should we as a nation pass laws that protect female soldiers, as well as their families back home, as we once protected fathers and their wives and children back home, from the horrors and aftereffects of war? Should we hold off on integrating women into direct combat roles until sufficient research determines the risk to female soldiers’ mental health?

These are tough, controversial questions, but the consensus I found among female veterans was a little clearer, and twofold: They applauded the DOD’s decision to lift the combat ban, if for no other reason than it might increase awareness among both the public and the government that female soldiers returning from combat situations of all kinds are veterans in the same way male soldiers are. But the female soldiers with whom I spoke also believed that we should give women the unique—and, yes, gender-specific—support that they may need both abroad and after returning home.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.