Report: Military Can Provide Female Troops With Better Health Care

By Nina Liss-Schultz

Photo: Sgt. Jennifer Jones/USMC

The presence of women in the last decade of war has been significant: 275,000 women have been deployed — 13,000 to Afghanistan so far this year alone. At least 130 women have lost their lives during service since 9/11. And in February, the Pentagon eased the ban on women serving in combat roles. But despite the growing number of women serving, and in light of female service members’ growing combat roles, an Army task force on women’s health concluded that U.S. armed forces are ill-prepared to provide female soldiers with adequate health care “that’s both equal in quality to that of their male counterparts, and that also accounts for the medical issues unique to a female population.”

According to the report, which was covered first by USA Today, none of the health problems described by the task force — such as urinary or vaginal infections — would bar women from “serving in combat but instead create unnecessary physical discomfort.” Instead, the task force recommended creating a simple kit that allows women to self-test for these kinds of infections without having to approach a company medic, often a man, about symptoms. Results from those tests can then allow them to obtain proper medication.

The task force also issued other recommendations to address women’s health care:

• Build body armor and physical exercise uniforms that fit women. The Army says it is testing better-fitting body armor for women in August.

• Provide better security for tent lodging and bathrooms to lessen the risk of sexual assaults.

• Urge the Army, Marines and Air Force to conform with a Navy provision allowing 12 months for new mothers to spend with newborns to take full advantage of the health benefits of breast-feeding.

• Sponsor more research into better understanding of the mental health issues that develop when mothers separate from families to go to war.

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) told USA Today that “it’s disturbing that after a decade at war, women servicemembers do not have access to some of the simple, common-sense solutions in this report.” A key finding of the report is that the military fails to educate women about how to stay healthy. Because the military currently lacks health tutorials specific to women, female servicemembers often do not know, for instance, that contraceptives can mitigate the increased unpleasantness of menstrual cycles due to combat stress — an issue that was widely reported to the task force.