July 2, 2009 Posted by: Dr. Lolita O’Donnell, Deputy Director, Clearinghouse, Outreach & Advocacy Directorate
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2008 (HR 4986, Section 716) specifically “requires the Secretary of Defense to conduct a comprehensive review of the 1) need for gender and ethnic group-specific mental health treatment and services for members of the Armed Forces; 2) the efficacy and adequacy of existing gender-and ethnic group-specific mental health treatment programs and services for members of the Armed Forces.” According to recent statistics, in 2008, women made up 11 percent of OEF/OIF veterans. Although current law excludes active duty women from officially participating in certain job categories such as ground combat operations (e.g., infantry, armor, artillery units) and submarines, female military members are an integral part of the large support force for these and other operations. The lack of frontlines and the insurgent nature of the current conflicts have made avoidance of many combat situations very difficult. Female service members in combatant areas have had to fight the enemy in the same manner as their male counterparts: engaging in firefights, taking prisoners, and occasionally becoming casualties or prisoners of war. As with male service members, female service members are at risk for exposure to combat-related incidents and trauma, which have the potential to result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other stress reactions. A comparison of male and female veterans from the Vietnam and Gulf Wars, however, suggests that when controlling for the level of combat exposure, males are three times more likely to be given a diagnosis of PTSD than females (Pereira, 2002).