Women in Combat

by: Precilla Wilkewitz, President

Disabled Veterans National Foundation

Remember this picture next time you hear someone say that women don’t serve in combat.

Yes, that’s a woman holding that rifle … defending you and me … in a combat zone … in this time of war.

Sure, like other women her age, she’s showing that ring to good advantage as she wraps her left hand around an M-4 carbine.

I get that. I was a young woman in uniform once myself. But the engagement ring is not the point. It’s the rifle.

The rules say women are not permitted to serve in direct ground combat in the U.S. armed forces. But the rules mean little when the generals say they could not fight today’s wars without putting women troops directly into harm’s way.

As they roll along the roads in the war zones, women are just as likely as their brothers in arms to hit a roadside bomb. On missions, regardless of their official job description, they’re just as subject to snipers and ambush.

Not surprisingly – just like the men – they’re coming home with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), caused by combat experience. Their “job descriptions” don’t change that fact.

Still, those “job descriptions” have kept women from getting needed medical care and benefits. Despite strong statements from the Secretaries of Defense and Veterans Affairs, some in government just haven’t received the message.

Over the years, many veterans – and not just women – have been denied benefits and services based on their military specialties alone.

It’s getting better, but only because change is being forced down from the top. In the meantime, who knows how many veterans have walked away, discouraged and disgusted, from a system that still seems stacked against them.

Cynical about the government they served, many wonder if this is really just about just one thing: saving money.

More than a few Veterans Affairs (VA) claims adjudicators take the attitude that every veteran who files a claim is trying to get something for nothing. To deny benefits to those who have honorably served our nation, they latch onto just about any excuse they can find.

This mind-set is entrenched. VA Secretary Erik Shinseki is right when he said his Department needs “a change of culture.” Still, the bureaucrats in the VA claims system were there before General Shinseki came on board; they’ll be there long afterward.

Last year, a VA report showed that women veterans were much more likely to be denied PTSD benefits than men. That’s mostly because the VA required a combat badge or ribbon in order to authorize compensation, something our government refused to give these women based on the jobs they were assigned in the military.

The rules changed last summer so that any veteran deployed to a combat zone can be compensated, but the change was long overdue. Thousands of women veterans have spent years struggling with PTSD.

And it’s not just the authorities who overlook the invisible war scars borne by women; the public pays little heed as well. Few civilians have any idea what these women sacrifice, working in combat zones day in and day out, separated from their families, carrying rifles.

Of the 230,000 women who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001, over 750 have been wounded in action and 137 have sacrificed their lives for America.

The military estimates that 20% of women veterans come home from combat zones with PTSD – a huge number, but even that percentage could underestimate the real damage.

As we support our troops and thank them for their sacrifice, we must remember the women among them. These heroes put themselves at risk every day; and, just like the men, they come home to us with life-changing physical and mental injuries.In addition to the care and compensation they earned and desperately need, we owe them honor. Thank you for joining the Disabled Veterans National Foundation’s drive to make that happen.

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