Female Vets Come Home to Second War on Trauma

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Memorial Day offers time to remember U.S. casualties in Iraq and note that this war involves a historic number of women. Once home, many female survivors fight a second war against post-traumatic stress disorder. The VA is studying ways to help.

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Major L.Tammy DuckworthSANTA CLARA, Calif. (WOMENSENEWS)--At a Rotary Club luncheon here recently, Major L. Tammy Duckworth showed a photo of the Black Hawk helicopter she was co-piloting in Iraq as an Army captain from the Illinois Army National Guard. Part of her mission on Nov. 12, 2004, was to drop candy and toys to children.

An arrow pointed to the cockpit where she sat when the rocket-propelled grenade hit it and exploded.

Duckworth woke up 10 days later at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., missing most of both legs, with a shattered right arm, limited movement in her left arm and hand.

"I was just in this despair when I thought I had crashed the helicopter," she said in an interview. "Later on, when I knew that we had been hit and that it wasn't a crash, I was relieved from the depression and all of the pain. I knew that I was fighting to do my job as a soldier and as a pilot until my last conscious breath."

Duckworth, now running for an Illinois seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, is one of 11 female amputees to return from recent U.S. operations in Iraq and elsewhere.

Women make up almost 15 percent of all active duty U. S. military personnel.

Women are excluded by the Pentagon from front-line combat units, but improvised explosive devices, roadside bombs, and small arms fire have struck them and their vehicles from all sides.

U.S. military action in Iraq has caused 2,460 U.S. military fatalities, according to Friday figures on Iraq Coalition Casualties, which operates a Web site that posts lists derived from deaths reported by the Department of Defense.

That death toll includes 52 U.S. servicewomen who died in the Iraqi conflict, 34 by hostile fire. Seven more died as a result of operations in Afghanistan. One died on duty in Djibouti. These 60 deaths outnumber female fatalities in Korea, Viet Nam, and the first Iraq War combined.

Wounded Women at Historic Level

The numbers of wounded women and female amputees, meanwhile, are considerably less than their male counterparts--at least 378 wounded versus 17,490; 11 amputees versus over 400--but they are historic for modern day warfare.

Many of the women wounded in the war undergo months of rehabilitation and face a second, psychological war. Also known as shell shock or combat fatigue, psychiatrists call it post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is currently spending $5 million for what it calls the largest clinical trial ever on psychotherapy for PTSD and the first to focus exclusively on female veterans with the disorder. Researchers recruited 284 women with current or past military experience and symptoms of the condition and tested two kinds of psychotherapy on them.

A Pentagon study published in March on the mental health of soldiers returning from deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan found that more than one- third of U.S. soldiers received psychological counseling. A statistic buried in the study: 23.6 percent of women reported a mental health concern compared with 18.6 percent of men.

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