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Women of the Gulf War: Understanding Their Military and Health Experiences Over 30 Years.

Lafferty M, Winchell K, Cottrell E, Knight S, Nugent SM. Women of the Gulf War: Understanding Their Military and Health Experiences Over 30 Years. Military medicine. 2023 Aug 29; 188(9-10):3191-3198.

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INTRODUCTION: Women Veterans of the Persian Gulf War (GW) expanded the military roles they had filled in previous military eras, with some women engaging in direct combat for the first time. Many GW service members, including women, had unique combat exposures to hazardous agents during deployment, which might have contributed to the development of chronic health problems. This study aims to understand the experiences of women GW Veterans (GWVs) as it is related to their military service and subsequent health in order to better inform and improve their clinical care. MATERIALS AND METHODS: We conducted in-depth interviews with 10 women GWVs to understand their experiences and perspectives about how their military service in the Gulf has impacted their lives and health. We used an integrated approach of content analysis and inductive thematic analysis to interpret interview data. RESULTS: Besides having many of the same war-related exposures as men, women faced additional challenges in a military that was inadequately prepared to accommodate them, and they felt disadvantaged as women within the military and local culture. After service, participants had emergent physical and mental health concerns, which they described as developing into chronic and complex conditions, affecting their relationships and careers. While seeking care and service connection at Veterans Health Administration (VA), women voiced frustration over claim denials and feeling dismissed. They provided suggestions of how VA services could be improved for women and GWVs. Participants found some nonpharmacological approaches for symptom management and coping strategies to be helpful. CONCLUSIONS: Women in the GW encountered challenges in military and healthcare systems that were inadequately prepared to address their needs. Women faced chronic health conditions common to GWV and voiced the desire to be understood as a cohort with unique needs. There is an ongoing need to expand services within the VA for women GWVs, particularly involving psychosocial support and management of chronic illness. While the small sample size can limit generalizability, the nature of these in-depth, minimally guided interviews provides a rich narrative of the women GWVs in this geographically diverse sample.

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