Signup for our newsletters

Keeping our promise to America’s women veterans

Posted

(BPT) - Women veterans are dying by suicide at an alarming rate. Between 2020 and 2021, suicide rates among women veterans jumped 24.1%; that’s nearly four times higher than the increase among male veterans and vastly higher than that among non-veteran women, according to a new report released by DAV (Disabled American Veterans).

While there are many factors that contribute to the rise in suicide rates among women veterans, one consistent cause is military sexual trauma (MST), which includes sexual assault or sexual harassment at any point during military service. Among veterans enrolled in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), 1 in 3 women report experiencing MST.

Ginger MacCutcheon, a veteran of the Women’s Army Corps, survived several violent sexual assaults while in service. She kept what happened to herself for decades, through abusive relationships, periods of suicidal ideation, and even two suicide attempts. Then one day during a volunteer event, something triggered post-traumatic stress symptoms for MacCutcheon, and a fellow veteran took notice.

“He actually took me and signed me up for VA health care, and that was the first time I got any help,” she said. “I was grateful how the VA ‘rallied’ around me and got me into counseling, but if I had just gotten treatment earlier in my life it could have saved me from years of self-destruction and misery.”

DAV’s new report, Women Veterans: The Journey to Mental Wellness, takes a deep dive into the unique factors that have contributed to a surge in suicide rates among women veterans and offers informed recommendations to fill mental health care gaps that still exist.

“Women veterans face many unique challenges that when combined with their service, puts them at greater risk for suicide. That’s why it’s imperative that the VA, Congress and advocates turn their focus to creating a tailored, thoughtful approach to filling the gaps in mental health care for this population,” explained DAV National Legislative Director Joy Ilem.

Navy veteran Jennifer Alvarado suffered years of intimate partner violence and repeat military sexual trauma before she sought help. “I felt lost in a lot of ways, and I had to dig myself out of a very dark place while I was trying to be an exceptional sailor and wear my uniform with pride,” she said. “It was almost like I was living a double life.”

According to the VA, nearly 1 in 5 women veterans using VA care reported experiencing intimate partner violence in the past year.

When Alvarado turned to her leadership for help with the violence she was experiencing at home, she said she was met with sexual harassment at work. “I felt shame to begin with, but I felt even more shame when I reached out for help,” she said. By the time she left the Navy, Alvarado said her life was chaotic and unstable. At times, she found solace in drinking and, during one phase in her life, she considered suicide.

For many women veterans, sexual harassment and assault, in combination with stress from military service and other factors, can push them to a breaking point.

Alvarado’s hope is that no veteran experiences what she did. She said the VA must regain the trust of women veterans and make sure they know what resources are available to them. “Women veterans need to feel confident that they are going to get the care that they need and deserve.”

For more information and free assistance with VA healthcare and support services, visit dav.org.


Join our readers whose generous donations are making it possible for you to read our news coverage. Help keep local journalism alive and our community strong. Donate today.


X