07/17/2012 09:42 am ET

The Nitty-Gritty of Women at War

What are the experiences of women at war, and what to tell clinicians about how to help? I have been asked to write a textbook on this subject, so have done another canvass of the literature.

What is striking is how little hard data there are about the experiences of female Soldiers and other service members from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are lots of articles published by Department of Veterans Affairs authors about the experience of female veterans from earlier conflicts. These normally focus on PTSD and sexual assault. There are some very poignant newspaper articles about the struggles and triumphs of individual female service members and recent veterans.

But the scientific literature is sparse when it comes to the experiences of women who are still serving in the military. The research in the Army has focused on combat teams, who, by definition, are male. A few exceptions: the second Mental Health Advisory Team (MHAT-II) did survey enough women in 2005 to draw some conclusions. Its authors found that the rate of PTSD and related symptoms was very close to, and slightly less than, those of men (12% vs. 13%). MHAT VI had similar findings.

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