One year ago, today, we celebrated the first National Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Day. It is an opportunity to raise awareness and provide information that can help Veterans and their families understand how they – and those suffering – can cope with the changes PTSD brings.
As part of this national effort, the Women’s Bureau is working to shed light on the growing number of women suffering from PTSD and create solutions that bring significant, positive changes in the lives of women Veterans.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder which can develop as a result of experiencing a traumatic event and can interfere with a Veteran’s reintegration process. There are an increasingly large number of women serving in the military who are impacted by the condition often face many additional challenges, including reintegrating back into the workforce, family and a community routine.
Today, there are more than 1.8 million women veterans – and the number continues to grow. Among women Veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, nearly 20 percent have been diagnosed with PTSD, which can stem from multiple traumas (including sexual assaults or abuse) acquired during military service.
Unfortunately, many women with PTSD remain undiagnosed or fail to seek treatment due to the stigma attached to the illness.
That is why, issues of importance to women in the military have been, and continue to be, a focus for the Women’s Bureau.
In 2009, the Women’s Bureau hosted a series of listening sessions with current and former homeless female Veterans and service providers across the country. The sessions resulted in a deeper understanding of how complex the issue of reintegration to civilian life for women Veterans is and revealed troubling concerns about women Veterans suffering from multiple traumas and economic hardships – which can lead to homelessness.
In response to what we learned, the Women’s Bureau hosted the first woman-to-woman Stand Down in Kansas City, Missouri, with over 250 women Veterans. It was a success. Many of the services female Veterans require were available in one location, making them more accessible to the Veterans in need.
This year, the Women’s Bureau will host four additional Stand Downs: Long Beach, CA (July 15), San Antonio, TX (August 20), New York, NY (September 8), and Tampa, FL (September 10).
Also, in the summer of 2011 the Women’s Bureau will release, Trauma-Informed Care for Women Veterans Experiencing Homelessness: A Guide for Service Providers, which underscores the need for organizations to recognize how trauma from military experiences impacts the reintegration process for women Veterans and helps organizations create effective trauma-informed care environments.
This work would not be possible without the support of the president and my boss, Secretary Solis. Administration-wide efforts continue to be made in support of our nation’s veterans. For example, President Obama simplified the process for a Veteran to claim PTSD disability benefits so that it would cover those, mainly women, without direct combat experience, but still experienced situations that would cause the illness. This has been a great step forward for women Veterans suffering from PTSD.
The more we know about trauma and PTSD, the easier it will be to serve our women Veterans and to erase the stigma of PTSD. And we can all play a part in helping to spread awareness about PTSD, especially today.
To learn more about PTSD and how to manage symptoms that commonly occur after trauma check out the Department of Veteran Affairs’ PTSD Coach mobile phone application.
Sara Manzano-Diaz is the Director of the U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau.