Dr. Kate McGraw, DCoE clinical psychologist on August 3, 2011
(From left) Panelists Drs. Kate McGraw, DCoE senior consulting psychologist; Robert Jaeger, acting director of deployment health with Department of Veteran Affairs; and Christine Carter, vice president for scientific affairs with the Society for Women's Health Research (SWHR) present on military women's health at a Congressional briefing hosted by SWHR Aug. 2, 2011. (Courtesy photo)
Dr. Kate McGraw is a clinical psychologist and senior consulting psychologist at DCoE. She was one of the first female intercontinental ballistic missile launch officers in the U.S. Air Force while stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont.
I’ve worked for the military for nearly 25 years in many different roles. Early in my career I broke into a gender-restricted field and the experience caused me to think a lot about challenges for females in the military. For the most part, while my gender made me obviously different from the males, I didn’t focus on it. My parents raised me to do my best, accomplish whatever I set my mind and heart to, and to never limit myself to a narrow female role.
As my military career shifted and changed, as chief for social actions, I taught how to prevent discrimination and sexual harassment. I was the aerospace psychologist with the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program as we integrated the first female jet pilot trainees into the school. As a clinical psychologist, I treated many military women, and there were often problems addressed in therapy directly related to the challenge of thriving in an environment as the only woman in the shop.
I participated in a Congressional briefing yesterday hosted by the Society for Women’s Health Research on military women’s psychological health and in preparation, I must admit I sat and reminisced a bit. Many of the faces of the hundreds of brave military women whose stories I’ve listened to, and whose tears I’ve witnessed, crowded my brain as I tried to carefully decide which topics to address.
There are enormous complexities related to being a woman in the military, challenges most men typically don’t face, and many people don’t think about. These difficulties directly impact psychological health. I remember a few of those “opportunities for growth” myself, having been the first pregnant woman ever on the missile combat crew force at Malmstrom AFB. The challenges military women face can involve leadership acceptance, child care, biological differences, societal role expectations, sexual harassment and assault, and ostracism by peers because of gender differences.
Some of our health research now focuses on how to better understand and help military women with a variety of psychological health concerns, and looks at how we can improve military culture to better support and respect differences among us. Women cope with combat-related stress just as men do. Additionally, research shows women appear to experience higher rates of sexual harassment and assault and are more likely to be treated for depression than men. And yes, while psychological health research may show us that in some situations women do things differently and respond to events differently than their male counterparts, different doesn’t mean better or worse, it just means different.
I decided to emphasize the most important truth at the briefing: our women warriors are brave, dedicated and risk their lives to defend our country, while juggling a lot of other responsibilities at the same time. Through sound prevention, outreach, resilience building and treatment programs, we’re making an effort to understand how best to help strengthen their psychological health. These are exciting times for both women warriors and those of us in the psychological health field.