CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — The Wounded Warrior Project is raising awareness about PTSD in women veterans after research showed risk factors that contribute to displaying the mental illnesses symptoms.
The organization, which was founded to help post-9/11 veterans, gathered responses from 5,400 women registered within their organization.
According to their findings, women who experienced military sexual trauma were three times more likely to display moderate to severe PTSD symptoms.
Women veterans who had co-occurring mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, or sleep issues were five times more likely to display moderate to severe PTSD symptoms.
Melanie Mousseau, who is the vice president of program operations and partnerships with the Wounded Warrior Project, says seeing the impacts of the factors is surprising.
Women are the fastest-growing veteran population with them representing 9% of the veteran population and they’re expected to reach 16% by 2043. So, being able to provide help is needed, according to Mousseau.
“We found that half of the women with PTSD also experience challenges in access to care. That’s where Wounded Warriors come into play where we can provide mental health and wellness programs, break down barriers to care and help women warriors and all warriors cope with PTSD,” she said.
Getting that help from organizations like Wounded Warrior made all the difference in their lives like Taniki Richard.
“When you’re in that dire need, when you’re in crisis, you don’t have the answers. You’re not the person who can help you. You need someone else to hold you up. In my weakest hour, our direst need, I didn’t have anyone,” she said.
Richard is a Marine Corps veteran and served for 11 years before medically retiring in 2012. She served a tour in Iraq in 2008 and also experienced military sexual trauma.
“I would break down right in front of the grocery store. I would hear the doors slamming and the air conditioning and doors slamming. It reminded me of being on the aircraft again. When I would hear loud noises, I would be so anxious and startled. I felt paranoid and disoriented. I knew this was not the ‘me’ I was used to,” she said.
Richard says her husband, who also served with her in Iraq, saw the change in her when she came home. She didn’t know she had PTSD at the time and was having problems at work. While she was getting counseling, it wasn’t enough and she hit a breaking point.
“As I was heading home, I crashed my vehicle outside the Marine Corps air station attempting to end my life. I had no idea how far I had gone. I never thought I would be the type of person to end my life,” she said.
Richard says at the time, she was the suicide prevention coordinator and sexual assault victim advocate for her unit.
It wasn’t until getting out of the service and eventually attending a Wounded Warrior Project event with her husband that she wanted to start healing.
“A lot of people don’t realize those invisible wounds hurt so bad, it feels like you’re not just missing just a limb, but your whole self,” she said.
Richard says the organization was there for her, constantly checking in weekly and hosting events but never pressuring her to talk. She attending different programs that led to her healing and now she’s offering that help she got to others.
The veteran turned entrepreneur says being involved with Wounded Warrior as a peer mentor has allowed her to meet other female veterans who are also getting help.
She hopes that they’ll continue to get the resources they need but doesn’t think Veterans Affairs is fully equipped yet to do so.
That’s why she’s offering her help and the Wounded Warrior Project.
“It’s not a cookie-cutter situation but we have to have some pillars for women in military or military sexual trauma that can go and get assistance right away.”
“We need you. We still want to see your smiling face at the end of the rainbow and make sure you are heard, you are validated, and you are supported,” she said.
To learn more about the Wounded Warrior Project, click here.