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It’s Time To Address The Staggering Rate Of Suicide Among Servicewomen And Female Vets
We were both almost statistics; numbers on a page that people use evoke emotions devoid of context.
To us, like so many other veterans, suicide isn’t a statistic. It’s part of our daily lives. Despite appearing “successful,” or even “normal” on the outside, there is an almost nagging preoccupation with not belonging. And while we know this reality — both from living it ourselves and being connected in veterans advocacy — when we read the state-by-state breakdown released by the Department of Veterans Affairs in September highlighting suicide statistics, the fact that veteran rates sit 22% higher than civilians is still jarring. And while all deaths are tragic, what drew our eyes immediately — and prompted more than a few pensive moments — was the explosive growth in the suicide numbers for military women.
Female veterans have a 250% higher risk than civilian women for suicide, according to VA data, and women who do not use VA services have seen a 98% increase in rates. For two female veterans who work with data for a living, the realization of how close we became to becoming part of this dataset is sobering.
A U.S. Air Force veteran sits in the Women Veterans Health Clinic Waiting Room.AP Photo/Ron Agnir
It is well-documented that veterans, especially female veterans, suffer from a lack of belonging and connection. During active duty, this manifests as a question of whether women feel like they have viable support resources inside and outside their units. As servicewomen transition into the civilian world, these cohesion and support questions remain. Too many feel that care systems (both nonprofit and government) are just not built for women, and even more report that when they leave the military, they lose one very important protective factor: social support.
Take, for example, NPR’s 2013 interview with servicewomen who shared how complicated it can be to serve in combat, then return to a community that doesn’t understand, or believe, that women can or should do such things. As the reporter observed:
“Our producer on this series, she noticed that these women seemed to be more anxious to get back to being women, which they sometimes define as being a mom, or a wife. But there's this paradox. Women are out there breaking down barriers, doing more than they ever have in the military. But they say to be women, they have to wait until they get out of the military.”
With the benefit of a little age and a lot of hindsight, we look back at our time on active duty and our transition from it as a time of tremendous risk and isolation. In our new lives as social-science researchers, we work with data that indicate association between reported support deficits for military women and invisibility. The suicide risk for military women is growing, which tells us that there are too many who still feel like we did, wearing the mask of invulnerability and strength. We’re not reaching them effectively, and that’s where the work lies.
The VA’s new report made the problem visible, but only by connecting and reaching out at multiple levels can we begin to reach the women before they find themselves on the brink of becoming a statistic; we need to identify that new pilot who needs to hear about intimate-partner-violence resources, or the former captain not sure who she is any longer if she’s not an active-duty Marine.
It will take an ecological approach to change things for today’s servicewomen. Government agencies, nonprofits, communities of faith, academic institutions, and companies all have a role to play.
The all-female formation salutes during the national anthem at the base retreat ceremony March 30 at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.U.S. Air Force photo
Women in the military is still a new and emerging area of research and most of its focus has been limited to a few main areas, such as access to medical care and military sexual trauma. Several important areas of research still need to be explored: the gendered nature of the way in which reintegration and social adjustment takes place, and where are intervention points for resilience; partner relationships during service and reintegration; parenting and relationships with children during and after service; dual-career lifestyles also require more research and understanding, among many others. Focusing on the social-support system for women will require new emphasis on the formal and informal structures that the military offers related to caregiving and family life. This research can also help to direct funding and policy change to interventions before service members think of becoming a statistic.
It’s time to start asking the right questions, funding inclusive research, and focusing on how we move beyond the stark suicide numbers to make change for servicewomen today and tomorrow.
Kate Hendricks Thomas is an assistant professor of Public Health at Charleston Southern University and a former Marine Corps Military Police Officer.
Kyleanne Hunter is a decorated combat veteran of the Marine Corps and a researcher with the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.
Investigation clears former Naval War College president, who offered free hugs and games of Twister, of misconduct
NEWPORT -- The Office of Naval Inspector General has cleared former Naval War College president Rear Adm. Jeffrey A. Harley of most of the allegations of misconduct claimed to have occurred after he took command of the 136-year-old school in July 2016, The Providence Journal has learned.
Harley, in one of a series of interviews with the The Journal, called the findings "deeply gratifying." He said many of the most sensational allegations -- "offers of 'free hugs' and games of Twister in his office" -- reflected a misunderstanding of his sense of humor, which he describes as "quirky," but which he says was intended to ease tensions in what can be a stressful environment.
The allegations, reported last year by the Associated Press, prompted a national controversy that led to Harley leaving the college presidency after almost three years in office.
The U.S. government failed to effectively account for nearly $715.8 million in weapons and equipment allocated to Syrian partners as part of the multinational counter-ISIS fight, according to a new report from the Defense Department inspector general.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), has long been seen as an apologist for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, whom she met during a secret trip to Damascus in January 2017.
Most recently, a video was posted on Twitter shows Gabbard evading a question about whether Assad is a war criminal.
Since Gabbard is the only actively serving member of the military who is running for president — she is a major in the Hawaii Army National Guard — Task & Purpose sought to clarify whether she believes Assad has used chlorine gas and chemical weapons to kill his own people.
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That's exactly what the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is working on, according to budget documents — and it wants $13 million to make it a reality.