Divorce Rate Triple for U.S. Female Soldiers, Report Finds
New America Media, News Report, Aaron Glantz Posted: Oct 15, 2009
SAN FRANCISCO –- More than 30,000 single mothers have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army, the most heavily deployed branch of the military, gives women just four months to stay stateside with their newborns before deploying to the war zone, leaving them little time to bond with or nurse their infants.
The divorce rate for female soldiers is nearly triple that of the men who wear the same uniform.
These are just a few of the unsettling statistics contained in a new report published Wednesday by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America , the nation’s first and largest organization representing Americans who’ve served since Sept. 11, 2001.
Eleven percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are female.
“After honorably fighting abroad women shouldn’t have to fight another battle here at home,” IAVA’s Erin Mulhall told reporters, expressing hope that the report, “Women Warriors: Supporting She 'Who Has Borne the Battle,'” will put women’s issues on the map when it comes to the military.
“This is really shocking and I think most Americans would be surprised to hear about it,” the group’s executive director Paul Rieckhoff added.
At the Pentagon, Army spokesperson Lt. Col. Nathan Banks, called the report’s statistics “alarming.”
“This is the first time I’m hearing these numbers,” Banks said, a revealing statement given most of the report's data comes from military sources and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
The report’s revelations were hardly new to female soldiers, however.
U.S. Army Sgt. Selena Coppa was sent on an intelligence deployment when her daughter Alyson was only six months old. While she returned, her husband divorced her and tried to take custody of Alyson.
The ensuing legal battle cost Coppa $20,000 and was made worse because she was “looked at less favorably since I'd spent so long apart.”
Through it all, Coppa said, she received no support from her superiors.
“All too often you hear, ‘If the Army wanted you to have a family, they would have issued you one,’” she said. “Women are continually forced into accepting less than ideal or even simply bad options for care for their child if they want to avoid getting legal charges for failure to deploy.”
Coppa believes that the military should be barred from "involuntarily deploying" single parents, including single fathers.
IAVA's Rieckhoff stopped short of such a statement, arguing instead that the military must take a hard look at how it can support mothers who are deployed overseas, especially by building in additional support for those who end up taking care of infants and toddlers left behind: most often grandparents, siblings and cousins.
The report quotes former acting Army Surgeon General, Maj. Gen. Gayle Pollock, favorably.
Last year, Pollock told the Washington Post he thought the Army should increase its maternity deferments to at least eight months, with 12 months being the most ideal: “We need to look at the fact that many women want to serve but they also want to be mothers. It’s a medical issue, it’s a mental health issue," he said. "Your ability to bond with your children is...very important.”
Conditions do not improve after female soldiers leave the military and become veterans. IAVA’s report found that, on average, female veterans earn almost $10,000 less than male veterans and often struggle to find jobs that pay as well as their military careers did.
Women veterans are up to four times more likely to be homeless than women who have never served in the military. Of homeless Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, almost 10 percent are women, and many of them have families, but only a dozen homeless shelters for veterans accept women.
Cara Hammer, an Iraq war veteran who served in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, said the atmosphere at Veterans Affairs hospitals is not welcoming to female veterans.
“My first experience walking into the VA hospital (was) walking down the halls with an older generation of men’s cat-calls,” she said. “That’s what I had to face walking to my appointment. It was discouraging,” she said.
The only time she attempted to get mental health care from the VA, she went to a location that offered counseling on a first-come, first-served basis.
“When I sat down, I started to notice my company and it was five or six older gentlemen with their World War II hats on or their Vietnam hats on and some missing limbs and all staring a hole through me,” she said. “Their facial expressions to me just showed me that I wasn’t wanted there. Who the heck am I and that sort of thing.”
So without seeing anybody, she got up and left.
NAM reporter Aaron Glantz is author of “The War Comes Home: Washington’s Battle Against America’s Veterans.”
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