Most Common Disabilities Among Women Veterans
U.S Women Veterans in Numbers
Women make up approximately 14.5 percent of the active duty military force and 18 percent of the National Guard and Reserves. Women make up the fastest growing population of veterans in the United States, with around 2 million veterans as of 2017. About 80 percent of this population is between the ages of 25 and 64 with more than half of them having served during the Gulf War Era.
As of 2018 there were around a half a million disabled women veterans in the United States. That makes up around 23 percent of all veterans with service-connected conditions. Out of these women, 50 percent of them have service-connected conditions that are rated 50 percent or higher. The top seven conditions that are described below account for 33 percent of all service connected conditions in women veterans.
Most Common VA Disabilities for Women Veterans
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that develops in people who have had experienced a shocking, scary or dangerous event. Symptoms of PTSD usually begin within three months of the traumatic incident, but sometimes can develop years afterward. Specific diagnostic criteria for PTSD are divided into three different symptoms including: (1) re-experiencing symptoms; (2) avoidance symptoms; (3) arousal and reactivity symptoms; and (4) cognition and mood symptoms. PTSD makes up 12 percent of all service-connection conditions among women veterans, around 48,000 women.
Military Sexual Trauma (MST) and PTSD
Many women develop PTSD as the result of military sexual trauma (MST). It can be challenging to prove claims for PTSD because the VA requires credible supporting evidence of the in-service stressor. However, it is highly unlikely that MST-related stressors would be documents as not many women report the incidents.
The VA requires something other than a personal statement to show they experienced MST during service. It is likely that they will need a statement from friends, family, or other veterans they served with. Additionally, veterans can look for behavioral makers in service records, meaning events or incidents that show there is a behavioral change during service. These behavioral markers can be very helpful in claims for PTSD.
- Major Depressive Disorder (Depression)
Major depressive disorder is the second most common service-connected condition among female veterans. Women veterans are 1.7 times more likely than their male counterparts to experience major depression. It is common that depression is associated with military service due to separation from family for long periods of time, deployments, and lack of support systems. Women experience these problems, but also face issues with harassment at higher rates than men.
- Musculoskeletal Conditions of the Back
In 2015, around 58 percent of women were treated for musculoskeletal conditions of the back where only 47 percent of men were being treated for these conditions. There are three different back conditions that are most often seen in women:
Cervical or Lumbosacral Strain
Cervical or lumbosacral strains are microscopic tears of the muscles in the tendons, typically caused by overuse. The VA rates this condition based on the range of motion by looking at how someone can bend forwards, backwards, and side to side.
Intervertebral Disc Syndrome
Intervertebral disc syndrome occurs when the discs between the vertebrae begin to break down. It is made worse when there is prolonged sitting, standing, and bending down. This condition is rated based on incapacitating episodes unless range of motion testing would result in a higher rating, then the VA would rate the condition based on range of motion.
Degenerative Arthritis of the Spine
The third most common back condition is degenerative arthritis of the spine, this involves the breakdown of the cartilage between joints and discs in the neck and back. This is caused by overuse, repetitive stress on the back, and it a common cause of pain.
- Migraine Headaches
Migraine headaches are typically very severe and often come with many residual issues. Currently, about 24,000 women veterans are receiving VA disability benefits for migraines. Migraines are often secondary to other service-connected conditions.
- Gynecological Conditions
The VA recognizes a variety of gynecological conditions including endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, female sexual arousal disorder, etc. Gynecological conditions do not have to be related to specific in-service events or injuries to be service-connected. Instead, it just needs to be shown that the symptoms first began in service. Most gynecological conditions cannot be rated higher than 30 percent.
How Gynecological Conditions are Caused by Military Service
Gynecological conditions can be caused by a traumatic injury which damages the ovaries or uterus. However, gynecological conditions do not need to be linked to a specific in-service event. Further, Gulf War veterans who have unexplained gynecological issues are entitled to service connection on a presumptive basis. This means that the advocate will presume that since the condition cannot be explained, it has something to do with exposure in the Gulf War.
- Bronchial Asthma
It is currently estimated that over 10,000 women veterans are diagnosed with bronchial asthma and receiving VA disability benefits. This high rate of asthma could be due to womens’ service in the Gulf War where they are exposed to environmental toxins causing respiratory symptoms. If their bronchial asthma has unexplained etiology or pathphysiology then service connection should be assumed. Another reason for the high rate of asthma may be post-9/11 service in the South West Asia theatre of operations. Here, many veterans were exposed to burn pits and inhaled various toxins, carcinogens, and particulate matter which can cause respiratory issues.
Tinnitus is a hearing condition which causes near-constant ringing in the ears. Many times this is filed in conjunction with claims for hearing loss and in most case if service-connection for hearing loss has been granted, tinnitus will usually be granted as well.
Veterans Help Group have been supporting veterans in getting the benefits they deserve since 1995. If you or a loved one served, and suffer from any of these conditions, we are here to help. Call Veterans Help Group at 855-855-8992 or complete our free veterans benefits case evaluation form.