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Understanding the Health Needs of Women in the Military

Women are the fastest growing group within the military and veteran populations, and efforts to support this population have recently started to gain national attention. More research is being conducted, policies are being updated and legislation is being introduced to support these women both during and after service. For National Women’s Health Week, I would like to highlight some of this recent work, focusing on the Military Women’s Health Research Conference. Last month IAVA’s Research Department attended this conference, which was sponsored by the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU).

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This conference brought researchers, scientists and policymakers together to discuss recent findings in military women’s health research. Three areas of research were covered: reproductive health issues facing military women, cancer research and prevention and optimal force readiness. Optimal force readiness included the issues of iron deficiencies, chronic pain and musculoskeletal injuries. Speakers addressed the gaps in knowledge surrounding these issues, but also the opportunities for improved care and further research. Findings from each of these sessions highlighted that women in the military face obstacles in accessing contraception, mental health care that complements pregnancy care, infertility care and also suffer more musculoskeletal injuries compared to their male counterparts during service.

Conference speakers and panelists also highlighted important resources that delve deeper into the current state of research on military women’s health, such as the recent supplemental issue of Military Medicine. This issue is entirely focused on women in combat and contains articles related to women’s performance, health and wellness. As part of the path forward, researchers call for continued studies of the relationship between military service, leadership, peer behavior, physical health, psychological health and social health to improve outcomes for women who have served. These research findings are important considerations for policy makers and leaders at DoD and VA moving forward, in planning for the long term health of women in the military. IAVA supports these efforts, calling for more research related to the needs of women veterans and women in the military in our 2015 Policy Agenda.

With women as an ever-increasing part of the military, investments in force readiness will require continued investments in research on women’s health. It is vitally important that healthcare provided to our service members is informed by solid, sex-specific research for the best outcomes possible. As DoD further prioritizes women’s health research in the military, regular collaborations between researchers and policy makers such as the Military Women’s Health Research Conference will become increasingly important. These collaborative efforts must continue in order to improve the effectiveness and accessibility of healthcare for military women.

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