Women account for a little more than 15 percent of our Armed Services. As of 2015 more than 280,000 women had served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While men and women in combat experience similar issues when returning home, there are some challenges unique to women.
Major Jaimie Inman, who’s stationed at Fort Bliss, has been deployed three times. She served in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan and is currently in the Army and National Reserves.
She said her biggest challenge following deployment was the expectation for a smooth transition back to everyday life as a caregiver and partner. And she’s not alone. Dr. Carol O’Brien, the Chief of PTSD Programs for the Bay Pines, Virginia VA Healthcare System, has found that women veterans are more likely than their male counterparts to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder including depression, PTSD and bipolar disorders.
“We’re expected to go back into the real world and to be an ok mom,” she said. “Both guys and girls see really crappy stuff [in combat], but we’re expected to go back and to be that glue that holds everything together. Women are really good about ‘Oh no, I’m fine; I’m going back to work.”
She said she feels there’s more of a general acceptance for male combat vets to express the need for and seek out mental health services than for women. She had an especially tough time with her relationships and a divorce followed her first deployment.
Inman sought counseling during that time and intense spiritual work in the form of Buddhist meditations was a lifesaver.
“I’ve worked with a lot of people doing a lot of that spiritual wok,” she said. “Working through the expectations and dealing with that stuff has given me a lot more coping skills. I think it’s made me a better officer and I can handle things a lot better.”
She lauds the Army for making advances in a more holistic approach to soldiers’ physical and mental well-being. The Master Resilience Training Program is designed to identify common stressors and triggers in everyday life and aid soldiers in developing strategies to deal with those issues. The program is a quarterly requirement for all military personnel.
Fort Bliss has mental health facilities and services available. The Department of Behavioral Health has clinics inside William Beaumont Army Medical Center, Fort Bliss Main post and East Bliss.
Captain Leticia Ortiz is currently in the United States Army Reserves and lives in El Paso. She was active duty Army from 2014. Like Inman, she had three deployments to Iraq and Kuwait.
According to her, the transition between deployment and coming back home is difficult for anyone. But, she says, in general male soldiers are seen as suffering more from PTSD and other afflictions resulting from combat, than women.
“Women in the military are just as prone to suffer from PTSD as their male counterparts,” she said. “I am still working through feelings and experiences from deployments. It’s my opinion that to avoid looking weak in front of their brothers in arms, [women] will hold back their feelings and emotions to appear fine.”
For her, the most difficult part of returning home was knowing that she would be leaving again.
“Perhaps my worst experience was knowing that, even though I was home, I wasn’t going to be there for long before moving on to my next assignment,” she said.
She commended the Army for having protocols and services in place to aid soldiers upon their return home. Career and mental health services are available to anyone who asks for them.
“There are briefings that everyone attends upon returning that highlight everything available to assist with the physical and mental strain soldiers may face upon returning,” she said.