I gave a talk I’d always hoped to at the TEDx Tuscaloosa event called Invisible Veterans: Military Women & Resilient Leadership. Because I’m so professionally and personally invested in these issues, few speeches have ever felt as intimidating and “must-get-it-right” as this one.

Improving reintegration for military women means talking about gaps in systems access; I tried to underscore the importance of social support for military women when we become veterans, especially since we are more likely to report feeling less unit cohesion while actually serving.

Simply put – what happens on active duty matters later.

Our bodies view lack of unit cohesion – or the absence of social support – as a physical threat. In fact, feeling disconnected from others is more dangerous to health than smoking. Stress hormones surge, and when they’re elevated too long, men and women both begin to have difficulty communicating, displaying empathy, and engaging in high-level thinking. Physical performance also suffers. Women in the military self-report low levels of unit cohesion. They don’t feel they belong in their respective groups. The reasons are many and the solutions – which inevitably lead to better physical performance and mental health outcomes – are simple.

Curious about the data behind this talk? I’ve blogged about this for Social Work Helper (read it here), spoken about it on C-SPAN, and published research on the topic for scientific journals like the Journal of Military and Veterans Health and Military Behavioral Health.