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The wars’ toll on female Iraq and Afghanistan veterans

In this photo made available by the U.S. Department of Defense, Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, vehicle commander, 617th Military Police Company, Richmond, Ky., stands at attention before receiving the Silver Star at an awards ceremony at Camp Liberty in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, June 16, 2005. (AP Photo/Spc. Jeremy D. Crisp)

Female veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have returned from war facing heightened family and emotional strains compared with their male counterparts. A report by The Washington Post’s Stephanie McCrummen about of a military sexual assault case highlights one of the unique challenges facing some female military service members, including family problems and worsened emotional health due to war.

Nearly a quarter of women who served in Iraq or Afghanistan reported a sexual assault, according to a study from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Female veterans have mixed views of whether the military is or is not doing enough to prevent sexual assault, by 50 to 48 percent. Men on the other hand, are more apt to say enough is being done by a 55 to 40 percent margin, according to a poll of Iraq and Afghanistan military service members conducted by The Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Women are suffering more than men when it comes to family problems and emotional health. Fifty-six percent of female service members say they have often or sometimes experienced relationship problems with their spouse as a result of their military service, compared with 44 percent of men. And women are more than twice as likely as men to say they are having problems with their children (39 percent for women to 16 percent for men) because of their service. These gender gaps are not explained by differing marital or parental status.

War wounds extend beyond the physical for women as well. More than four in 10 women returned from Iraq and Afghanistan reporting worse mental and emotional health, compared with three in 10 men.

That gap is surprising given that direct involvement in combat was generally associated with worse mental and emotional health in the poll. More than eight in 10 women served in combat support roles, well above the 53 percent of men in that capacity. And that gap is larger for men and women in combat support roles; 46 percent of women claim worse mental health compared with 25 percent for men in combat support.

The Post-Kaiser poll interviewed a random national sample of 819 adults who served in Iraq or Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001, including 661 men and 158 women.  The results from the survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus five percentage points overall, five points for men and 11 points for women.

Scott Clement contributed to this report.