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POV Regarding War

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The Combat Ban and How It Negatively Affects Women Veterans

written by Meg McLagan and Daria Sommers
on March 22, 2010

On February 23 of this year, during Senate Armed Services Committee hearings, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) asked Army Chief of Staff General George Casey if he thought the time had come to change the role of women in combat. Casey replied as follows:

Senator, I believe that it's time that we take a look at what women are actually doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, and look at our policy. We don't have an active effort going on that but I think it's time.

Lifting the ban on women in combat would bring policy in line with reality. Reconciling that contradiction would also help returning women veterans. The policy currently places an unfair burden on women veterans seeking Veterans Affairs (VA) care because women soldiers' combat experiences are often not recorded on their DD214s (a soldier's official verified service record). As Jennifer C. Schingle, associate counsel at the VA's Board of Veterans' Appeals, writes about the challenges women veterans face within the VA:

There are a number of reasons for these documentation challenges, the greatest being the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) policy that prohibits the assignment of female soldiers to units whose primary mission is to engage in direct ground combat operations....This lack of combat recognition not only damages a female soldier's pride and future military career, it damages her potential to prove service connection should she later be diagnosed with PTSD as a result of the combat action.
— "A Disparate Impact on Female Veterans," William and Mary Journal of Women and the Law, Fall 2009

Our film, Lioness, has played a key role in raising awareness of this "paper work disconnect" and getting Congress, the DoD and the VA to recognize the problem. On March 31, 2009, Lioness screened on Capitol Hill before members of Congress, their staff, veteran service organizations, and military and veteran women leaders. Following the screening, four of the women in the film answered questions about their experiences; the discussion focused on the absence of a mechanism within the Army to properly document service member (female or male) participation in operational missions outside of the requirements of their military occupation.

As a direct result of our work on the Hill, the House Armed Services Committee addressed this critical issue in a report accompanying the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, in which it requested that Secretary of Defense Gates review the way the armed forces manage and document service personnel (such as the Lionesses) who are asked to participate in operations outside their job specialties*. That review is currently underway.

* Read this section of the National Defense Authorization Act report (PDF) on pages 315-316.

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