Female Veteran Suicides

Women are gradually slogging toward equality with their male counterparts in the military. Females make up 14.6% of active duty forces, 19.5% of reservists, and 15.5% of National Guard members. Recently the Pentagon announced the opening of the path to combat for female service members. Our local 163rd Artillery Company proudly put a face on this by publicizing the assignment of their first female member to a combat role. Let’s hear it for gender rights!

But wait! There’s a disturbing corollary of gender diversity in the military. Female veterans die by suicide at nearly six times the rate as those with no service. The higher rate of lethality is largely attributable to the ready availability knowledge and comfort with using firearms by female veterans.

In its own inimitable way, the Veterans Administration has risen to the challenge by offering gun trigger locks and firearms safety classes at their facilities. What gets short shrift is attention to the triggers of suicides in female veterans.

Likely triggers for this high suicide rate are being victimized by sexual abuse, exposure to primary and secondary trauma, being subjected to bullying and psychological abuse. Additionally, working in the male dominated near total institution of the military extracts a high price from female members.

With male combat veterans we have learned the value of addressing depression and PTSD through acknowledging the problems and providing support and guidance as the vet works through them.

Until we get to the point of ending war, let’s reach out to our female veterans and learn about their experiences and challenges in the military. We owe it to them for what they’ve done for all of us. Remember, one small act can change the life of a veteran!

Christopher Simon