Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Invisible Wounds of War


A disabled veteran leaves her office and travels to a burger shop for lunch. As is her right, she parks in a spot reserved for those with proper identification that she is disabled.  As she exits her vehicle she is approached by a police officer who says, " You don't look disabled to me".  

Unfortunately, not all wounds are visible. 

Women may not serve in direct ground combat in war zones but they are often in roles that provide significant support to combat.   Our female veterans served as nurses of course.  That's the first thing we think of when we imagine women in the military.  But they also carry M-4 assault rifles and were Kevlar helmets.  They are medics and photographers and electricians.  They walk a fine line between what is considered combat and what is considered non-combat.  They are in constant danger of death.  After serving in a war zone they have residual effects as well as their male counterparts.   
The military is still largely male dominated. Even though we don't like to talk about it, women remain the outsiders in many situations.  In the last twenty years, our military women are still experiencing "firsts".  Can you imagine the welcome received by the first women on a Navy ship? Stop for a minute and think about what those women probably had to endure.  How about the first women who served in the war zone of the Gulf War, or Afghanistan? Do you think all the men welcomed them as a viable part of the team? I believe most men felt that women didn't belong there.  I believe some men were excited to see them there, but not because they could add value to the military.

Our female veterans are the silent sufferers of wounds that often go ignored. 
So many of our female military veterans have been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and so many more go undiagnosed.  Some figures estimate 18% of women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD.  I would guess that the figures are higher.  Women are more likely to show signs of depression, while their male counterparts are more likely to turn to alcohol.  
Neither women nor men return from war unscathed.  We need to develop a heightened sense of awareness about the unseen scars of war.  In the coming years we will have untold numbers of women returning to our communities that may appear to be healthy physically.  They may never discuss the sights and sounds of the war in they served.  I think we need to assume there are lasting scars.  Lasting images in their minds. Lasting smells that can never be forgotten.  Lasting sounds that can be triggered by something as insignificant as a slammed door.

 Not all wounds are visible.

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