News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Opinion

May 26, 2013

EDITORIAL: Women in uniform must be treated with respect, dignity

Military sexual assaults are a ‘national disgrace’

TERRE HAUTE — As the nation pauses this Memorial Day weekend to remember those who have served their country, it is appropriate to reflect on the contributions of women in military uniform of the U.S. armed services. They are many, and their impact is great.

Nearly 2 million Americans have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan through U.S. combat operations. More than 283,000 of those service members have been women, more than 800 have been wounded, and more than 130 have died. They’ve been recognized for heroism, with two women earning prestigious Silver Star medals, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Back home, their families — mothers, fathers, husbands, children, brothers, sisters and grandparents — pray for their safety and proudly support their sacrifices.

Homecomings for those women, from a long hitch overseas or on American soil, are becoming more numerous.

Today, women account for 8 percent of all service veterans living in the U.S. By 2035, they will comprise 15 percent of the veteran population, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

As with every service member and veteran, women in uniform deserve respect and dignity on this holiday and, more importantly, beyond.

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner reflected a sad, troubling trend on Thursday when he aptly labeled the increase in sexual assaults in the military “a national disgrace.” Boehner made his remarks as both the House of Representatives and the Senate crafted legislation to remedy the spreading ordeal.

Reports of assaults have gained pace this spring. An estimated 26,000 military personnel were sexually assaulted in 2012, according to a Pentagon survey.

In 2010, that number was 19,000. Most of the victims are women.

The expansion of the assaults has prompted Congress to rightly intensify and speed up the passage of laws. “It’s outrageous,” Boehner said of the problem. He is absolutely right, and Washington is right to act aggressively to protect and support the troops vulnerable to the egregious acts.

Families who send their sons and daughters, and husbands and wives off to war already carry a heavy cluster of anxieties. The fear that their loved one might be sexually assaulted should not be among their bundle of worries.

The increased role of courageous women in various aspects of military service, especially combat, has been a continual subject of debate. Those discussions, appropriately presented, should also enlighten the American public to the great sacrifices and contributions made by women in uniform now and in times past. According to Veterans Affairs, a total of 1,853,690 women veterans were living in the U.S. in 2011. That includes 33,622 in Indiana, and 54,479 in Illinois.

At the Ceremonial Entrance to Arlington National Cemetery, the Women in Military Service Memorial stands. It is the only major national memorial honoring all U.S. servicewomen, then and now — from current operations to, yes, the American Revolution.

On Memorial Day, we thank and recognize all veterans, and encourage all Americans to increasingly support the efforts of the women among those service members.

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