Documenting Women's Military History and Health

By Williams, Kayla | Army, January 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Documenting Women's Military History and Health


Williams, Kayla, Army


Documenting Women's Military History and Health

Women at War. Edited by Elspeth Cameron Ritchie and Anne L. Naclerio. Oxford University Press. 392 pages. $85.

When women began serving in the U.S. military during the Revolutionary War, they did so disguised as men. Today, they represent approximately 15 percent of the force. Despite the continual expansion of women's roles in the military and the increasing number of female veterans, research on their specific physical and psychological health issues has remained relatively sparse. Women at War attempts to change that. The co-editors are medical doctors. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie is a retired Army colonel; Col. Anne L. Naclerio is deputy surgeon, U.S. Army Europe.

The volume covers not only women at war but also their return home from war, the psychological issues of activeduty women, and the experiences of female veterans. The chapters-written by 40 authors with vast experience within DoD, VA and beyond-cover a range of topics, including reproductive health, psychological health, suicide, intimate partner violence and military sexual trauma. (Full disclosure: I have presented on panels and professionally collaborated with co-authors of several of the chapters.)

The authors approach their subjects with varying degrees of clinical specificity. The chapter "Issues in the Prevention of Malaria Among Women at War," for example, narrowly focuses on its topic in a highly technical way. "Traumatic Brain Injury: Implications for Women in the Military" contains information on blast-induced and repeat traumatic brain injury, medical and neurobehavioral outcomes, and the possible protective factor of female endogenous hormones.

Conversely, the chapter "Building the Framework for Successful Deployment Reunions" is a much more personal account of experiences and lessons learned as the author and her husband took turns deploying to and returning home from war zones. Similarly, "Women, Ships, Submarines, and the U.S. Navy" includes an abundance of personal anecdotes and "clinical pearls" of wisdom for doctors serving on Navy ships.

A few chapters focus on narrow populations and time frames, such as "Female Combat Medics," which describes a recent longitudinal study of behavioral health among U.S. Army combat medics. Others are broader and more wide-ranging, including "Compensation, Pension, and Other Benefits for Women Veterans with Disabilities," which delves into the history of disability compensation and pensions given to women who have served in or with the military from 1775 to the present.

For those who choose to read the book front to back rather than focusing on specific chapters of interest, some weaknesses become clear. …

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