Flaws in Military Justice can Contribute to Female Suicide

One Piece of Legislation could Answer the Call to Protect our Sisters' in Arms from Heinous Crimes


Contact: Lois Matteis 

         Falls Church, VA – The suicide rates for veterans have been a growing issue over the years, but many don’t have a deep understanding of the demographics behind the “22 a day” statistic that has been making the rounds on the web. The Center for American Veterans is advocating for a VA study on this most serious issue. As data is collected and conclusions are reached, we call upon the United States Congress to set aside political divisions and address this oversight with bi-partisan comprehensive legislation!

          Veterans’ suicides account for 18-20 percent of suicide deaths in the country, while they make up only about 8.5 percent of the adult population.

         Some of the most alarming facts about veteran suicide fall under the female veteran demographic, given that they are the most at risk group prone to committing suicide during the transition. They are also the fastest growing demographic of the veteran community, so more must be done to protect our sisters in arms when it comes to ensuring there are programs addressing specific issues that ALL veterans can potentially face upon leaving the military.

The Shocking Stats Behind Female Veterans:

          Suicide is a very complicated issue and there are many reasons and factors which account for the escalated suicide rates in female veterans. Female veterans, however, face distinct challenges getting out of the military, and these issues often get lost in translation when administering separation programs for veterans. CAHV is calling upon all service providers to begin treating our female veterans with the same efforts and concern as those accorded our male heroes.

          Knowing the facts about female veterans is vital when it comes to looking at programs to assist with female military transition into the civilian world. Currently, female veterans are 250 times as likely to die from suicide than their civilian counterparts. Furthermore, female veterans are also more likely to commit suicide by firearm than civilian women.

         One concerning misconception is the public’s perception on what the typical homeless veteran. Many, including female veterans, consider the typical homeless veteran to be a white male from the Vietnam era, with substance abuse problems. Since 2014, this demographic is swiftly shifting to that of women veterans with children.

          The highest commonality associated with issues female veterans face is past sexual trauma.  According to the VHA, 1 in 5 women seen at the VHA answer “yes” when being screened for Military Sexual Trauma (MST). While there are higher report rates from males regarding MST, the lower ratio of female military members makes the MST reports of females slightly higher than male MST reports.

A Broken System Creating Harsh Realities:

          Reported sexual assaults jumped to 10% between 2016 and 2017, for both men and women. While the Department of Defense attributes this to trust in the military judicial system, yet the court martials within the services has dropped. 

          This boils down to giving a significant amount of autonomy to military commanders when it comes to assessing crimes committed by service members. Military commanders have a significant amount of conflicting incentives, which leads to a significant increase in administrative punishment as a substitute for these types of crimes.

          Secretary of Defense, James Mattis has demanded officers and commanders to prevent and eliminate sexual assault within ranks. This is an admirable first step, but until legitimate judges and lawmakers get involved with these cases, very little progress should be expected to fix these issues. This deeply disturbing trend needs more commitment and action, as CAHV has been advocating for several years.

          Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has introduced the Military Justice Improvement Act (S. 2141) which would remove the power of criminal autonomy from military commanders and put these cases in the hands of trained legal professionals who have no bias ties to anyone within their command. This bill would put an end to all this unbelievable neglect some of our service members are facing.

          The increase of female veteran suicide and homeless rates should be setting off alarm bells for our lawmakers, as the lack of interest in this issue can cause issues when combating homelessness in veterans and will also cost the taxpayers more money in the long run due to money being spent on insufficient solutions to a growing problem.

          One thing is certain. This issue is not going to just disappear, and needs to be addressed. All of our service members deserve to be protected from vicious predators and lackluster justice.

The Center for American Homeless Veterans is a national nonprofit organization that fulfills its mission by advocating to the public and Congress about the needs and solutions for American Veterans, with an emphasis on those left behind, such as homeless and disabled veterans.  By molding public opinion CAHV helps shape public policy. The forerunner of the organization was established in 1993.  During its past history, it helped sponsor 196 forums and receptions around the country, many of which highlighted transitional facilities. Over 100 Members of Congress were hosted and spoke at those events. 

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Center for American Homeless Veterans

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(703) 237-8980