Female vets boast stronger mental, physical well-being than civilian counterparts

NEW YORK — There’s been a heavy focus in recent years on the negative psychological consequences of military duty, with plenty of research about veterans battling PTSD. Interestingly, a new study finds women who served are actually happier than those who don’t.

Published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, the study out of Columbia University looked at women who served in the Vietnam War in either a combat or civilian capacity. Ultimately it concluded that the combat segment scored better in terms of mental and physical health than a representative sample of its peers.

This is the first study to compare attitudes among civilian and military women dating to the Vietnam era. It includes separate breakdowns for civilian women simply deployed to Vietnam, women who actually fought in combat, and non-military women in the general population. Of the career military women examined, a full 10% were more likely to report being “very happy” than the general population.

With 265,000 women having served in the military during the Vietnam era, up to 11,000 of whom were deployed in non-combat roles, this research had been long-awaited.

“Our results suggest that a military career—which by military rules in force during the Vietnam era, precluded a woman from typical wife and mother roles—afforded women a meaningful experience that continued to positively impact their emotional well-being, even decades after the war,” Dr. Jeanne Mager Stellman, the study’s senior author, says of the effects of military enrollment in a university release.

Expanding upon this finding, women who were deployed for either civilian or combat duty were less likely to have later married or had children than their female peers.

Although the study acknowledged that a significant number of women studied who served described their experience as being “highly stressful,” the research also “underscores the benefits of a military career for those women who chose it,” Stellman notes.

The researchers hope that their findings “can help to improve the experiences and well-being of current and future generations of female military personnel” as a whole.