Women’s health may no longer be a consideration in the military

Despite the sacrifices of the millions of military personnel – past and present – ​​who have served our country, and despite the ever-increasing numbers of female service members, in particular, they often do not receive the support they need and deserve. This is especially true when it comes to their health and well-being.

Although much of the media attention on this topic has focused on sexual assault, sexual assault, and poor mental health among female service members—for significant reasons—there is another health gap we must address: servicewoman musculoskeletal, urological, and gynecological issues. Health . While less discussed, they are important to their personal health as well as to the readiness in the field and the overall effectiveness of the US Armed Forces.

But it’s not that we don’t know what women need to be healthy. We do. The solutions are relatively simple. All they need to do is for military leaders and Congress to ensure that women soldiers have access to the appropriate resources and care to remain combat ready.

Women have served in the US military for nearly 250 years, and during that time they have had many important roles. They have also been able to compete directly since 2016, when all restrictions on their service were lifted. According to the Department of Defense, in 2021, there will be approximately 230,000 active-duty women; About 1 in 6 service members, or about 17 percent of the military overall.

While these figures already represent a fairly substantial increase, the number of active-duty women is expected to continue to increase by 18,000 per year over the next decade. Still, women are 28 percent more likely to leave the military than men.

There are several well-documented reasons for this high rate of attrition, not the least of which include gender discrimination in healthcare, reproductive health needs, high rates of musculoskeletal injuries – often associated with strenuous physical demands and poorly fitting equipment and gear. Results not properly designed for female skeletal structure – and mental health issues. But often not mentioned are serious overlooked injuries like urinary tract infections.

In fact, such conditions are surprisingly common among female military personnel, affecting at least 30 percent of deployed women, according to a 2021 article in US Medicine.

Beyond the uncomfortable and often stigmatizing symptoms that come with such diseases, the consequences are dire. According to a 2020 report by the Defense Health Board on active duty women’s health care services, conditions such as urinary tract infections are one of the main reasons deployed women seek medical care and are even evacuated from their deployments. is needed.

This has a detrimental and immediate effect on overall military fitness and readiness for women soldiers as well as their units. This is a systemic problem for a force that purports to be the most powerful in the world.

The military continues to get better at accommodating women’s unique medical needs, but there are still many clear need areas where subpar care persists and for far too long. Case in point: Two studies conducted by the Defense Women’s Health Research Program in 1994 and 2015, respectively — 21 years apart — found similar gaps in healthcare access for female service members. Gaps were around musculoskeletal injuries as well as gynecology and reproductive health. The only difference was that the 2015 study found an additional challenge for female service members in accessing contraception.

There are solutions to these women’s health problems that must be adopted. There are kits designed for women to test themselves for possible infections. In the field, along with common symptoms, they can be a way to allow female service members to self-diagnose and understand their self-treatment options. It should also require that the DoD and the Defense Health Agency provide service women with appropriate support for specific female needs and such an assessment of the gynecological, reproductive and musculoskeletal health status of active-duty women to address these problems. Do research.

It would help if Congress passed legislation supporting the health needs of women in the military and directed funding to the DOD for programs aimed at closing health gaps for military women. Our leaders in Washington, including DoD, should not wait any longer to take these steps. America’s female soldiers and all of our combat forces deserve no less.

Martha Nolan is a senior policy advisor at HealthyWoman. Healthy Women works to educate women ages 35 to 64 to make informed health choices.

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