By Melanie Kieve
Airman 1st Class Claudia Segovia boards a Boeing 737 enroute to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Photo by U.S. Air Force, Airman 1st Class Eboni Knox.
All too often, the battle continues when a service member returns home.
Between physical injuries and “invisible” wounds such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety, injured service members face barriers that can make reintegrating into civilian life challenging, says Clemson recreational therapy faculty member Brent Hawkins.
Hawkins and colleagues across the U.S. have engaged in research to better understand the factors that help or hinder an injured service member’s ability to readjust. In the process, Hawkins found that little research had been done specific to injured female soldier reintegration.
Sgt. Nichole D. Sharp, a military police officer with 3rd Infantry Division and Hatos, a military working dog, conduct a security assessment of a new customs yard being built near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Photo by Staff Sgt. Shane Hamann (U.S. Army).
Hawkins and University of North Carolina at Wilmington faculty member Brandi Crowe have investigated the reintegration experiences of injured female service members — and are using the research to inform rehabilitation, recreational therapy and other support programs to properly serve them.
“Injured female veterans are a largely hidden population,” Hawkins said. “It was important to examine their needs more closely so that they could receive the assistance they need and deserve.”
Their research revealed that injured female soldiers struggle with several barriers: society’s misguided perceptions toward military females, readjusting to family roles and responsibilities, lingering effects of military sexual trauma and lack of availability of female-specific veterans services. The research also showed that reintegration was harder than expected and involved a process that includes finding a “new normal.”
“The research highlights the need for female-specific treatments and programs that can facilitate open dialogue and an increased sense of camaraderie and trust,” Hawkins said. “Our goal is to help them find their ‘new normal.’”