Female Vietnam vets have higher rates than previously thought, a study says
She writes — My friend, Marsha, is the oldest of seven and the daughter of a World War II combat veteran. Marsha’s father, like most men of his generation, spoke very little about his war experiences, and what happened in the war was never directly known by most of his children.
Like many in her generation, Marsha studied nursing. The military trolled schools of nursing for recruits, desperately in need of women to care for the injured and dying in Vietnam. As with most of her fellow students, Marsha had no experience in traumatic nursing. And, when she found herself in Vietnam, war was all she heard and smelled, even when she closed her eyes.
Marsha worked 12-hour shifts in the intensive care recovery room — a semi-circular rubberized structure with tubes that blew in air to keep inflated — and prayed she didn’t do anything wrong. The intensive care beds were emptied as quickly as possible to make space for the next batch of patients. Unless the men were burned, they were typically gone within 24 hours.
In addition to death and dying, Marsha experienced incoming rocket attacks. In order to temporarily escape, most of the nurses wouldn’t leave their rooms at night; they would understandably hide away, listening to music, writing letters and reading books. But Marsha didn’t want to hide.
Because nurses weren’t issued weapons, Marsha bought an M-16 from a nurse who was leaving the country. She didn’t ask the nurse where she got the gun, but she knew it worked. Unfortunately, it didn’t provide Marsha the comfort she needed. She drew 365 boxes on a piece of paper for the days of the year she had to serve. She’d get up every morning and color in a square, and wait.
Traumatic for the Women, Too
Approximately 7,500 American women served during the Vietnam era. Many, like Marsha, were nurses, but some filled other clerical or personnel positions. While post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been well-studied among men who served in Vietnam, the women who served during that time have been relatively neglected. It’s understandable that the men who served our country during Vietnam got greater attention — there were far more of them, and their military jobs put their lives at greater risk. But giving more attention, support and resources to the women who served in Vietnam does not take away from our men.
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