Women Veterans Left Behind by Inadequate Mental Health Support

The mental health challenges facing women veterans are significant and multifaceted. As they transition from military to civilian life, many women do not see themselves reflected in the veteran services available, which historically cater more to their male counterparts.

This discrepancy has significant implications for their mental health and overall well-being.

Women veterans face unique mental health challenges.
Photo: Pexels
Women veterans face unique mental health challenges.

Identifying Gaps in Care

Research reveals that women veterans face unique challenges that are often not addressed by current veteran services. Many women do not identify with the label ‘veteran’ and feel that services do not understand their specific needs, especially those related to experiences of sexual violence and discrimination within the military.

The lack of visibility of women in veteran services’ branding and materials further alienates them from seeking the help they need, reports News-Medical.Net. The importance of visibility cannot be overstated; when women see themselves represented, they are more likely to reach out and engage with services.

Many female veterans do not use 'veteran' services due to identity issues.
Photo: Pexels
Many female veterans do not use ‘veteran’ services due to identity issues.

Structural and Practical Barriers

Structural barriers further complicate access to mental health care. The Veteran Affairs (VA) health system, although expansive, often fails to meet the rapid increase in demand for women-specific health services, reports KDVR. Key issues include inadequate screenings for military sexual trauma and a lack of gender-specific treatment options.

Personal Stories and the Human Cost

Ginger MacCutcheon, a military veteran, shared her traumatic experiences with sexual assault within the military with WOSU.

“I went off to boot camp dressed in a suit with matching luggage and shoes, just like Private Benjamin would go,” MacCutcheon said. “And I thought, ‘Oh, this is a great adventure I’m going on.’”

But, then the adventure ended.

“They discharge you and let you go with no idea of how you’re going to help yourself or get help. Nobody says anything,” she continued.

Services for veterans lack gender-specific considerations.
Photo: Pexels
Services for veterans lack gender-specific considerations.

Current Efforts and Policy Recommendations

Efforts are ongoing to bridge the substantial gaps in mental health care for women veterans. Notably, the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) organization has proposed over 50 policy recommendations specifically targeting enhancements to the Veterans Affairs (VA) mental health services, KDVR reports. These recommendations are crucial as they aim to refine the responsiveness of the system to the unique challenges faced by female veterans.

Among these proposals are more rigorous screenings for military sexual trauma—a pervasive issue among women veterans that often leads to long-term psychological distress. Additionally, the DAV advocates for tailored interventions that address the alarmingly high rates of suicidality among women veterans.

Women veterans experience higher rates of PTSD compared to male veterans.
Photo: Pexels
Women veterans experience higher rates of PTSD compared to male veterans.

Despite these proactive steps, further efforts are necessary to ensure that the mental health needs of women veterans are adequately met. One of the major challenges remains the implementation of these policies. Translating policy recommendations into actionable changes within the VA requires not only funding but also a shift in organizational culture and priorities. Moreover, there is a need for continuous evaluation of these implemented changes to ensure they effectively address the needs of women veterans.

Another critical area needing attention is the accessibility of mental health services. Studies show that women veterans, particularly those in rural areas, often face significant barriers to accessing care.

Improving outreach and support mechanisms to make mental health resources more accessible to all women veterans, regardless of their location, is crucial. The path forward involves sustained advocacy, effective policy implementation, and ongoing support to ensure these brave women receive the care and respect they deserve.

The Path Forward

To improve mental health care for women veterans, a multifaceted approach is needed. This includes enhancing the visibility of women in veteran services, addressing the unique challenges they face through tailored services, and continuously adapting policies to meet their evolving needs.

The insights provided by various studies and personal accounts from veterans themselves point to a clear need for systemic change. As the number of women veterans continues to grow, so too should our efforts to provide them with the mental health support they deserve.

Click below and help us call for more mental health resources for women servicemembers and veterans.

Support Veterans

Provide food and supplies to veterans at The Veterans Site for free!