Best Defense gender relations correspondent.
On Jan. 10, the Veteran Administration released a report on veteran mental health that concluded that that women were more likely to have their PTSD claims denied than their male counterparts.
This was a landmark day for veterans groups. American Women Veterans and other organizations had been asking for this kind of study for years. VA officials initially put too much emphasis on combat awards, for which many women are ineligible. As Senator Mark Warner, who asked for the VA study, said in a letter to General Shinseki, "The difficulty with these guidelines is that the standards for these decorations vary from service to service and in some cases, unit to unit."
Thankfully, the VA has changed the policy. Now the presumption is that a female interpreter who is attached to a combat unit is exposed to the same hazards and trauma as her male counterparts. Women who had their PTSD claims denied under the old policy will now be able to reapply for benefits. Thousands of women who were initially denied PTSD treatment could now be eligible for VA care.
This announcement came in the same week that a study released by the Military Leadership Diversity Commission recommended dropping the ban on women serving in combat units, sparking of a renewed debate about women in combat. AWV founder Genevieve Chase has called the existing ban largely a matter of semantics. "Commanders have gotten around the policy for years by 'attaching' women to units they cannot be directly assigned to." On Jan. 12, Sgt Zainah Creamer, a female dog handler working with the 502nd Infantry Brigade, was killed in Afghanistan.
Reasonable people may disagree about what roles women should fill in the military. American Women Veterans would like to see the existing policy rewritten to more accurately reflect what women are now doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. A rewritten policy might prevent problems like the VA's old PTSD guidelines. General Casey, Army Chief of Staff, has been hinting about a revision to the existing policy for months.
Whatever comes of the debate, one thing is certain. The enemy will get the final vote.
Matthew Collins is a graduate of the US Naval Academy and spent ten years as a Marine officer. He is a veteran advocate with American Women Veterans.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.