This story is part of DAV’s 2024 report, Women Veterans: The Journey to Mental Wellness. The report is a comprehensive assessment of the unique factors contributing to the staggering rates of suicide among women veterans and how the system charged with their mental health care can and must do better. Learn more at 

Naomi Mathis joined the Air Force in 2000 as a young, single mom. She wanted to serve her country and give her children a better life—a goal she says came to fruition. And despite the turmoil she experienced during and after service, there’s little she would change.

“The only thing I would change would be that we didn’t lose Griff,” Mathis said, referring to Staff Sgt. Patrick L. Griffin Jr.

Griffin was killed in an accidental detonation of unexploded ordnance on May 13, 2003, while operating in a convoy into Iraq. Mathis was in the same convoy.

When she left Iraq, Mathis became an instructor and slowed her life down. That’s when she started experiencing what was undiagnosed severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), along with suicidal thoughts.

The most sobering wakeup call came in 2006 after the birth of her son. She doesn’t know if it was hormones or the cocktail of medications she was on for PTSD, but Mathis started experiencing what seemed to be severe symptoms of postpartum depression.

“I immediately was terrified,” Mathis said.

Mathis quickly saw her TRICARE doctor and demanded a change in treatment. She also started therapy.

While Mathis’ care was through TRICARE, many women veterans who use the Department of Veterans Affairs for maternity care are similarly at risk for negative mental health experiences. Research shows that veterans using VA maternity care are more likely than the general population to have one or more mental health diagnoses, including PTSD, which can put them at greater risk for things like suicidal ideation. VA maternity care is outsourced to community care providers, requiring a high level of coordination.

“And those providers, we need to ensure that they are trained to be able to take care of women veterans,” Mathis said. “We come with a unique set of challenges mentally [and] physically.”

“I want people to realize that you can turn any situation around,” she said. “It’s not the end, no matter how hopeless it feels.”