As a former naval officer, I am grateful that this Women’s History Month, Phoenix House is honoring the sacrifices made by our nation’s women service members. When I was in the navy, I had the opportunity to serve alongside some of the most courageous, independent, intelligent, and compassionate women I have ever met. They shaped my perspective on many issues—making me believe in my abilities, challenging me to work harder, and forcing me to laugh at myself when I needed to. Unfortunately, many citizens have not had the opportunity to meet any women service members like those with whom I served.
Women currently make up approximately 14% of active duty forces, including 12% of those service members who have been deployed to Iraq and/or Afghanistan. Although women have fought in wars for many centuries, the importance of women to the military has been underscored in the post-9/11 world.
Fighting asymmetric wars with ambiguous battle lines, women have increasingly risked their safety and their lives to protect and defend. Sometimes, these acts of bravery have been recognized, such as when Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester earned the Silver Star. But too many women veterans remain invisible in a world where military bravery is commonly identified as a masculine virtue.
This isn’t to say that women’s military experiences are the same as men’s; in addition to the trauma that is associated with combat, women sometimes carry extra psychological burdens. These can include: loneliness resulting from minority status; negative symptoms associated with sexual trauma including depression and PTSD; and joblessness due to not being recognized as a skilled veteran. Women veterans are four times more likely to be homeless compared to their civilian counterparts. Immersed in a challenging and unsafe environment, many of these women turn to drugs and alcohol.
Although the Department of Veterans Affairs is currently transforming its policies to better serve women, including those who are struggling with addiction, sometimes VA services are not readily available or convenient. Fortunately, nonprofit organizations like Phoenix House provide a safety net by offering targeted veterans services along a customized continuum of care.
To all the women service members out there who are battling addiction – and to their family members – please know that Phoenix House recognizes your sacrifice and is here to serve you and your specific needs. We are proud to count many veterans among our staff and are continually seeking to expand the reach of our services to ensure that no veteran goes without the care she or he deserves.
For more information about how we may be able to help, please visit our Military Community webpage.
Lauren Zapf, Phoenix Houses of the Mid-Atlantic
U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 2003
U.S. Navy, Surface Warfare Officer, 2003-2009