21 August, 2013

Female Combat Veterans: The New Vietnam Veterans?

Picture this: A combat veteran is getting publicly shamed. Their service is spat upon; various media outlets perpetuate misinformation about them;  veterans charities and nonprofits exploit them; and the general public doesn't seem to accept them either. They are criticized, scrutinized, and are often spoken about with disdain, question, and shame. The combat veteran faces constant antagonization and, as a result, experiences a failure to reintegrate after war and is vulnerable to homelessness, substance abuse, prison, and/or suicide.

No, this isn't 1968. This is 2013. And that combat veteran is a woman.

One doesn't have to look very hard to see not just the war on women, but the war on women veterans.  Men are writing books protesting integrating women not just into combat arms, but the military all together.  Women are willfully defending misogyny and are utilized as puppets for publicly disgracing women's abilities, accomplishments, and honorable service.  As a female combat veteran, I have spoken up quite a bit about this and have been pushed aside and silenced.  I've been there, done that.  Yet I get a clear view of a non-stop circus shredding my service apart quite vividly.  After all, in an age where military rape is more palatable than hearing a story about a woman performing effectively in direct combat, who wants to hear the truth?  And as a female combat veteran, one struggles in finding any real reasons to continue living in such an environment with no apparent and attainable way out.  Is it any surprise that women veterans are committing suicide at alarming rates?

Los Veteranos de Arizona
The underdogs of before certainly have more compassion. The veterans art group "Los Veteranos de Arizona" who are predominantly male Vietnam combat veterans - and Native American and Hispanic - were incredibly supportive to the point where they convinced me in 2010 to show my work, which I had held onto for years, in a public setting. No pissing contest of 'who did what and when' that you often see with the OIF/OEF crowd. While Iraq and Afghanistan veterans groups snubbed me to maintain their boys' club status quo, Vietnam veterans groups, especially those of color, took me in.  They just allowed me to be me and did not judge me. And really, that's all I ever wanted.

After all, Vietnam veterans, especially those of color, knew not only of being shunned upon return to the United States and being judged, but also the discrimination faced due to their race.  In addition to a group of women scattered across the country who never stop caring for women veterans (veterans and non-veterans alike), Vietnam veterans of color have been one of the most supportive groups of me being a female combat veteran.  They not only served in severely traumatic environments, they were treated as outcasts - and dealt with everything in the first paragraph.   While people nowadays are far more supportive of "the troops" in general, it still tends to be male-centric.  Just take a look at your local community resources and what's really there for women.  Give those resources a call and put them to the test if they offer anything for women.  You're in for a real treat.  Despite studies that show that women perform effectively in combat and that there is no real difference in handling PTSD when it comes to gender, we're still slammed quite openly even in this flag-waving, yellow ribbon-wearing environment.  Vietnam veterans I've worked with seem to get that and see history repeating itself under a different banner.

"I'm talking.  I'm up here."  Confronting Patronizing Patriarchs

In this video, Comgresswoman Tammy Duckworth  (D-IL) addresses a disrespectful individual who does not respect her sacrifices.  Braulio Castillo, an IRS contractor, goes on to defend his dubious claim of injury from playing football in prep school as a "sacrifice" in defense of the United States - although, he's never picked up arms in defense of it.  The video displays the ever-eloquent ass-chewing Congresswoman Duckworth delivered to blowhard Castillo.  It was magic time in the bureaucratic forest.  Unicorns and dreams filled with cotton candy could be seen for miles around after this glorious scene.

Confronting this poor behavior and arrogant attitude by males (veterans and non-veterans alike) is a must.  While I have seen and experienced positive feedback and support by other males in addressing the issue of institutional and indirect violence towards women, I have far more experience in the opposite end of the field with unashamed blowhards like Castillo.  If you're a woman, a female combat veteran, you can bet there will be a pissing contest, a comparison of experiences with such men, and if they come up short, they'll dream up situations and people that sound like they've allegedly done more than you have.  It's appalling, but it's generally accepted.  Boys will be boys?  Unacceptable palaver.  However, Rep. Duckworth halts Castillo's self-serving frothing at the mouth with a two-by-four of plain, objective truth.  He's no hero.  And he had the stones to stand in front of a double amputee, female combat veteran and attempt to interrupt and disrespect her in public.  This is what happens when "keeping it real misogynist" goes wrong.

Suicide rates for Nevada, 2008-2010


Homelessness and suicide rates are climbing everyday not just for veterans in general, but more specifically women veterans of recent conflicts.  Examining this study from Nevada, there's a lot more work to do in properly reintegrating women veterans into civilian life, to include validating their service and allowing for opportunities for growth, self-worth, and self-actualization - you know, reasons not to commit suicide.  It's not just about resources and emergency services, it's about addressing the problem with long-term solutions.  Not just waving the flag and slapping on bumper stickers, but offering chances to improve, develop, and contribute to society with pride and dignity without dealing with the current judgment and public humiliation.  However, in order to establish adequate resources for women, we must address everything in the first. damn. paragraph.

After dealing with another patronizing patriarch last night, and fortunately getting it taken care of appropriately, I was fortunate in finding a book that I had been searching for years to read: Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko.  While it discusses the homecoming of a mixed race Native male veteran from WWII, I'm finding a lot more in common here regarding the homecoming and reintegration process.  While veterans of other eras provide their stories of survival past the ridicule and ostracization, novels like Ceremony also help in many ways and target specific issues. The stories I hear retold from veterans of all eras who struggled even harder to find inner peace - and lived - give me a sense, as a female combat veteran, that things can indeed get better.  Here's hoping.

Also see: Lifting the Ban, Lifting the Veil

1 comment:

Graciela Tiscareno-Sato said...


Just stopping by to share that we women military veterans are banding together in new and creative ways to be heard-and, since you refer to it in this post, also writing books. www.womenvetsspeak.com is the bureau we just launched. Here's the news release: http://bit.ly/166X7DS. We hear you. We will NOT be silent. Stay loud and proud hermana!

Graciela Tiscareno-Sato, USAF Captain and Veteran
Author, "Buenas Noches Capitan Mama" (Good Night Captain Mama)