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Not enough resources for women vets

By GIULIA LASAGNI, MEDILL NEWS SERVICE, Written for UPI
Not enough resources for women vets
U.S. President Barack Obama visits U.S. soldiers at Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq on April 7. President Obama's unannounced visit to Iraq is his first to a war-zone since he took office. (UPI Photo/Lee Craker/U.S. Army) | License Photo

WASHINGTON, Nov. 4 (UPI) -- Service women contribute the same as their male colleagues to military operations and deserve more resources when they return from combat zones, the top military U.S. adviser said Thursday.

"I know what the law says and I know what it requires but it would be hard for us to say that any woman who serves in Afghanistan today or who served in Iraq in the last few years did so without facing the same risks of their male counterparts," said U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, who is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a group of military advisers to U.S. President Barack Obama.

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According to a Pentagon policy enacted in 1994, women, who according to recent statistics total 208,271 and make up about 15 percent of the American military, cannot serve in units whose primary mission is to engage in direct ground combat.

Mullen, speaking at a conference organized by the U.S. Institute for Peace, said women's roles have significantly changed in recent years because the nature of contemporary conflicts, such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has made for a different reality.

"In a war where there is no longer a clear delineation between the front lines and the side lines, where the war can come at you from any direction, this will be the first generation of veterans where large segments of women returning will have been exposed to some form of combat," Mullen said.

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Mullen said that women provide the military with "a competitive advantage" because in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq they have access to places and people, including local women, that would be almost taboo for male troops.

While contributing in a unique way to combat operations, Mullen said that an increasing number of women share similar experiences and problems with men.

"Like servicemen, they are also coming home to Dover [an American military base in Delaware where caskets bearing those killed in action arrive] and just as their male counterparts have, they are returning with wounds, visible and invisible," he said.

These wounds, Mullen said, aren't always taken into account. In particular, Mullen is concerned about the fact that women veterans experience homelessness at increasing rates -- 10 percent of recent veterans seeking help for homelessness are women, he said.

"This is something that deeply troubles me because the resources for these women haven't caught up with those for their male counterparts," Mullen said.

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