Report: Female Veterans Face Serious Challenges When Returning Home

A new report released late last month by Disabled American Veterans (DAV) indicates that female veterans feel left out of programs aimed at aiding veterans of recent conflicts. More women than ever before have served or are currently serving, nearly twice as many as in 1980, yet the report finds that many of the VA’s services lag behind in serving female veterans.

DAV’s report, titled “Women Veterans: The Long Journey Home,” outlines a sad reality for America’s lady warriors. Female veterans are more likely to face problems finding work after leaving the military, are more likely to become homeless, and about 20 percent of them have been victims of military sexual trauma. The report also detailed 27 changes or policies that need to happen in order for female veterans to be equally served.

At a time when the number of women veterans is growing to unprecedented levels, our country is simply not doing enough to meet their health, social and economic needs.
Joy J. Ilem, Disabled American Veterans
Issues that need to be addressed include disability compensation, employment programs, housing assistance, sexual trauma, as well as several cultural changes. However, DAV also pointed out that they consider themselves a partner with the VA and said they intend to work with the agency to find solutions to these problems.

“At a time when the number of women veterans is growing to unprecedented levels, our country is simply not doing enough to meet their health, social and economic needs,” said DAV’s deputy national legislative director, Joy J. Ilem. “Women veterans deserve equal respect, consideration and care as the men who served, yet the support systems are ill-equipped to meet the unique needs of the brave women who have defended our country.”

DAV presented the report’s findings at a “Lunch and Learn” event in Washington, D.C., on September 24. The event was co-hosted by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and U.S. Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.), ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

In addition, the event featured participants from a forth-coming documentary called, Journey to Normal: Women of War Come Home. The film follows a group of female veterans as they return to civilian life and details the challenges that they face. Because service women are also wives and mothers, and a high number of them are single mothers, they are unique in the issues that affect them and their families.

One of the most significant problems that female veterans face, which often goes overlooked, is health care. In the last year, according to the report, 20 percent of female veterans have gone without needed health care and 30 percent of VA medical centers don’t have gynecological providers on staff to meet the specific health care needs of women.

For all the challenges that they face, women veterans are not victims. Far from it, in fact. Women have served honorably and with distinction since the Civil War, and after the lifting of the personnel cap in 1973, they began volunteering for service at record rates.

Currently, women account for 20 percent of new recruits, 14.5 percent of the active duty force (1.4 million), and 18 percent of the 850,000 reserve force. About 280,000 women have served in Afghanistan or Iraq since September 11, 2001.

Most of these women were exposed to combat and the daily threat of violence that comes from service in a war zone. The number of female veterans is expected to increase to 11 percent of the total veteran population by 2020.

Ironically, the upcoming issue of Redbook is dedicated to employing female veterans. The cover features First Lady Michelle Obama and details a group of women who met with the First Lady to discuss the struggles they face in finding employment.

“Despite dedicating years of their lives to serving our nation, women leaving the military today face unprecedented challenges finding work, even more so than their male counterparts,” said Brie Schwartz of Redbook’s Mom Blog Council.

Michelle Obama and her initiative Joining Forces, which helps Americans find ways to support military families, are asking American business owners who are in a position to do so to hire women warriors and encourage other business owners to do the same.

While employment is certainly an important issue, it isn’t the only one that affects women veterans. Until the gaps in care and services are filled, women veterans will continue to struggle.

Of the changes called for in the report, it is unclear which, if any, will be adopted by the VA.

Photo Source: Alaska VA