No one is talking about women veterans returning from the war. However, the reality is, women veterans are facing unique challenges in a system designed for men.
Women have been serving at record numbers. In fact, women make up an unprecedented eight percent of all U.S. veterans. That is close to two million women. The situation has become so dire that the Department of Veterans Affairs had to take action. They formed a Women Veterans Task Force to address these unique issues.
According to the task force, there are six critical areas facing women veterans today.
Women Veterans Issue #1 – Health Care
Neither the Department of Veterans Affairs nor The Department of Defence can handle the specific health issues that women veterans face. Hospitals and medical centers are too understaffed to deal with the volume of patients. Especially in the areas of gynecology and obstetrics. In fact, one-third of the VA’s medical centers do not have a gynecologist on staff. Even though the demand for such care continues to increase.
Regardless of the staffing issues the VA and DoD face, they still lack the facilities and specialty equipment needed. Research conducted by the VA shows a staggering lack of care. Almost one in five women veterans have delayed or gone without needed care in the prior 12 months.
Where and how to get help – VA Health Care for Women Veterans
At each VA medical center nationwide, a Women Veterans Program Manager (WVPM)is available. The WVPM is an individual designated to advise and advocate for women Veterans. The WVPM can help coordinate all the services you may need. From primary care to specialized care for chronic conditions to reproductive health.
Women Veterans interested in receiving care at the VA should contact the nearest VA Medical Center and ask for the WVPM.
Learn more about the VA Health Care for Women Veterans.
Women Veterans Issue #2 – Military Sexual Trauma
Sexual abuse, harassment, and even rape are reaching epidemic proportions in the military. In fact, 20% of women enrolled in VA health care screen positive for MST (military sexual trauma.) Yet, over 31% of VA centers say they can’t provide adequate services. Often times the chain-of-command is part of the problem. As a result, neither active duty women service members nor veterans know who to turn to for help.
Where and how to get help – Military Sexual Trauma Coordinator
Every VA facility has a designated MST Coordinator who serves as a contact person for MST-related issues. This person is your advocate. They can help you find and access VA services and programs. Additionally, they can help you sign up for state and federal benefits, and access to community resources. This includes free, confidential counseling and treatment. Even if you don’t qualify for other VA care, you can still get the help you need. You don’t even have to have reported the incident or have documentation that it occurred. Just contact your local area coordinator and get the help you need.
Learn more about MST and other violence and abuse from the “Make the connection” website.
Women Veterans Issue #3 – Mental Health
The VA and DoD have difficulty providing gender-specific care. In particular, a lack of specialized inpatient mental health care designed to meet the needs and preferences of women. This includes peer support and group therapy.
Where and how to get help – Mental Health
As mentioned above, each VA medical center nationwide offers a Women Veterans Program Manager (WVPM). The WVPM is available to help you. Women Veterans interested in receiving care should contact the nearest VA Medical Center and ask for the WVPM.
Learn more about the VA Health Care for Women Veterans.
Women Veterans Issue #4 – Disabled Vets
Women who have lost one or more limbs may not receive support and care tailored to their needs. Furthermore, women are less likely to have a prosthetic that fits properly. Unfortunately, the VA has not been able to keep up with the number of women veterans returning with such disabilities.
Where and how to get help – Disabled Vets
The good news is that there a number of civilian organizations who have stepped in to fill the gaps left by the VA health care system.
The Disabled Veterans National Foundation exists to provide critical support to disabled and at-risk vets. Veterans who leave the military wounded—physically or psychologically—after defending our safety and our freedom.
Also, there is the Disabled American Veterans Organization. The DAV is a nonprofit charity. They provide a lifetime of support for veterans of all generations – including their families. The DAV helps more than 1 million veterans with positive, life-changing benefits each year.
Of course, you should always start with your Women Veterans Program Manager (WVPM). We cannot overstate this. They have access to the most current information and can point you in the right direction.
Women Veterans Issue #5 – Unemployment
Post-9/11 women veterans have higher unemployment rates than male veterans and non-veteran women. Challenges in the labor market are exacerbated by medical and mental health concerns.
Where and how to get help – Unemployment
Believe it or not, the best place to start with unemployment issues is with the US Department of Labor. The “Gold Card initiative” helps provide post 9/11 veterans with intense services and follow-ups. Something needed to succeed in today’s meager job market. This initiative is a joint effort of the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA), and the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS).
Women Veterans Issue #6 – Homelessness
Women veterans are at least twice as likely to be homeless as non-veteran females. Furthermore, women veterans are also more likely to be single parents. This makes life extraordinarily difficult for women veterans.
Where and how to get help – Homelessness
No veteran, regardless of gender, should be without a place to call home. As such, the Department of Veterans Affairs has created an entire department designed to help deal with homelessness.
Homeless veterans and those at imminent risk of becoming homeless should call or visit their local VA Medical Center. Additionally, they can reach out to their Community Resource and Referral Center where VA staff are ready to help.
The good news is that the VA is making progress. In addition to the resources listed above, the Department of Veterans Affairs has created the Center for Women Veterans. Here you can find an entire section dedicated to resources designed to help with the issues listed above and more. There are also Women Veteran Coordinators (WVC’s) located in every regional VA office. They are your primary point of contact.
There are also innumerable private agencies and nonprofit organizations that can help. The best place to start is with the National Resource Directory. The DoD maintains this directory. Here, you can find over 17,000 organizations to help you. Every one of these resources has been thoroughly vetted and approved by the DoD.
If you have an emergency, need assistance, or want more information, the VA has established a Women Veterans hotline: 1-855-VA-WOMEN (829-6636.)