March 26, 2011:
The American veteran population is rapidly becoming more female. In the United States, women began entering the armed forces in a big way only 40 years ago. Currently about 14 percent of active duty troops are women (and 18 percent of the reserves). At the same time, about eight percent of 22 million veterans are women, and six percent of patients in the Veterans Administration (VA) medical system are as well. By the end of the decade, ten percent of veterans will be female, and over nine percent of those receiving medical care from the VA.
All this has caused some problems for the VA, which failed to adequately prepare for the growing number of women joining (and destined to become veterans). Thus the VA suddenly found itself in unknown territory, because the last decade has produced, for the first time, a large number of female combat veterans. There are now about a quarter million of them, including over 5,000 receiving disability benefits (for injuries received in combat, or non-combat, operations).
The female veterans do not respond to the stresses of military service, or the physical injuries, the same way men do. This has forced the VA to adapt, or at least try to. For example, more services have to be provided for female veterans, because they are, like their civilian counterparts, more likely (about twice as likely) to seek care. It's one of the reasons women live longer than men. They take better care of themselves, and do not suffer in silence.
Women have other problems that exacerbate their service related injuries. Enlisted women are three times more likely to be divorced, and thus more likely to be a single parent. That produces more stress, which makes service related problems more difficult to treat. Moreover, females are more prone to depression, and a host of psychological problems that the VA medical system rarely encounters. Compounding all this is the fact that the VA is still geared, psychologically and professionally, towards treating male veterans. Thus the sudden influx of injured, especially with stress problems, women, causes some unpleasant culture shock. Many VA medical personnel have been treating an exclusively male clientele for so long, that they are at a loss when confronted with female patients. Civilian medical personnel quickly learn to switch gears, but many VA personnel haven't a clue. This is harder on the female patients than it is on the VA staff.
Politicians have discovered the problem, but all they can do is pass more laws. The real solution will have to come from the VA, a huge institution which is slow to change and adapt.