Starting in December, Yale researchers will conduct one of the first ever studies exclusively about female soldiers.
Scientists will investigate whether female soldiers are more likely than males to have difficulty adjusting to civilian life after being in combat, School of Medicine professor and principal researcher Rani Desai said.
“It’s a long-standing idea, but we only now [since the start of the Iraq War] have our first large cohort of returning veterans who are women,” Desai said.
Desai will work with Carolyn Mazure, the director of Women’s Health Research at Yale, and psychiatry professor Sherry McKee to study 15 male and 15 female veterans from Connecticut. The veterans come from the Air Force, the Army, the Coast Guard, the Marines, the National Guard and the Navy.
Desai said that before the Iraq War, the only women involved in wars were nurses who generally saw no combat time. Although sending women into most combat situations is not sanctioned by Congress, fighting counterinsurgents in Iraq has blurred the line of what combat is, said Daniel P. Jones , the press officer for Women’s Health Research at Yale.
The demographic of female soldiers has also changed since the Iraq War, Desai said. Female soldiers are now similar in age and education to their male counterparts.
While Desai said she was unsure what the results would show, she said several factors may make female soldiers more susceptible than male soldiers to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other anxiety disorders.
“We know based upon previous research that women going into the military are more likely to have suffered childhood traumas than men,” Desai said. “They’re also at risk for military sexual trauma, sexual harassment and assault.”
Desai said if the study shows high rates of PTSD in both men and women, it would make doctors more aware of how widespread the anxiety disorder is.
Desai said the subjects will participate in focus groups to provide feedback to researchers about the study.
The Women’s Health Research at Yale, which seeks to include more women as subjects in research studies, will coordinate with the Northeast Program Evaluation Center of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on the study. For their study, Desai, Mazure and McKee received a grant from the Grace J. Fippinger Foundation, which funds education and medical research. Funding will begin in December.