Women Veterans Committee Update May/June 2016

Women in Vietnam War

During the Women Veterans Committee meeting, Dr. Kathryn Magruder presented results from the VA National Retrospective Health Study for Vietnam Women Veterans. More than five thousand women who served in Vietnam, other places in Southeast Asia, the U.S., and elsewhere around the world responded by mail and telephone. Does anyone remember being a part of this study? How many have we participated in and never heard back on the findings? Well, here are some results.

The first part of the study deals with the prevalence of PTSD and was reported in the November 1, 2015, issue of JAMA-Psychiatry . Surprisingly, women who served—both in-country and out—have a higher incidence of PTSD than men. There were enough survey questions to rule out pre-military onset.

Four important variables were especially relevant for those serving in Vietnam or elsewhere in Southeast Asia: 1) Age of enlistment (the younger the age, the higher probability of developing PTSD); 2) Sexual discrimination, trauma, or harassment; 3) Performance pressures related to expanded job duties; and 4) Incidences of continued exposure to triage and death. As noted by the survey group, the majority of in-country military women were nurses. Trauma resulted, it is clear, because “the enemy was on both sides.”

Vietnam women veterans have a lower mortality rate than those who served in other parts of the world. Their 20 percent higher incidence of PTSD is related to the different risk factors they were exposed to—not a surprise to those of us who keep in touch with our sisters.

Future studies will examine PTSD and diabetes, cognitive impairment, cardiovascular disease, trauma exposure, depression and substance abuse, disability, use of the VA services, and post-traumatic growth. There also will be a follow-up survey to this study.

Another subject to bring to your attention is the ongoing data collection for the Government Accountability Office on women’s VA health care. Many veterans service organizations have provided feedback. I have spoken with many of you about what is working and not working in your areas. I would love to hear from you about your concerns and experiences using the VA health care system. I understand that incarcerated women veterans do not have access to VA health care. We have hundreds of new women veteran members this year, and I would really like your input. Email me at koharepalmer@gmail.com .

Kate O’Hare-Palmer, Chair

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