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At the time of the Vietnam War, just 3 percent of military service members were women – and that 3 percent faced a unique kind of trauma even if they weren’t deployed. Now that these women are coming forward, new findings have surfaced surrounding PTSD in female veterans.
According to PBS News, a recent study published by the APA asked more than 300 female veterans about their experiences with sexual trauma. They divided the participants into two groups – one group served before 9/11, and one served after. Almost half of the pre-9/11 group reported sexual contact against their will, and a majority of those women met the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis.
Another study showed that women ages 45-54 reported more sexual harassment and assault in the military than any other age group. What’s more, is that the association with sexual trauma and health issues like heart disease, substance abuse, and other mental illnesses was most prevalent among female vets 45 and up.
Why is this? It’s most likely because there was less awareness and education around PTSD from sexual abuse when these women served.
One veteran, Sheila Procella, who served in the Airforce in the ‘70s, said she endured inappropriate physical contact, sexual comments, and gestures every single day. Years later, she found herself dependent on alcohol and drugs to cope with deep depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. In 2014, she was diagnosed with PTSD from sexual trauma – nearly 3 decades after her service.
There are many more like Procella – today, 25 percent of women who use VA health services have this same diagnosis. Hopefully, increased attention to military sexual trauma will allow more women to feel comfortable speaking out and will reduce the stigma overall.
For more information on PTSD, head over to MedCircle and check out our original series on confronting sexual trauma with Dr. Cheryl Arutt.