Photo by Expert Infantry

There has
been an increase in political and public attention of the issues facing today’s
women service members and veterans. In addition to news and media stories,
there have been several critically acclaimed documentaries during the last few
years that powerfully portray the unique experiences of Servicewomen such as Lioness, The Invisible War, and Service: When Women Come Marching Home.

Leaders in
Washington are also focusing on Military Sexual Trauma (MST) and proposing
legislation and policies to address and prevent MST. Honoring servicewomen and
addressing their needs has always been part of Hope For The Warriors® mission
and we are now developing specific programming to enhance the quality of life
for post-9/11 servicewomen.

Let’s start
with the basics. There are currently 438,504 post-9/11 women veterans in the
United States (27% of all female veterans). In addition to this, there are
194,000 active-duty servicewomen, making up 14.5% of all troops. This number is
expected to double in the next 10 years.  More than 240,000 women have fought in Iraq
and Afghanistan since 9/11.  In addition,
there are 80,000 women in the Reserves and 65,000 in the National Guard.

Women who
serve within the US Military have unique strengths and challenges. According to
the US Department of Veterans Affairs (DOVA) Women Veteran Profile report
released in February 2013, women veterans (not Post 9/11 specific) have higher
personal incomes that women non-veterans, are more likely to have medical
insurance, and are more likely to work in local, state, and federal government.
Compared with their male counterparts, women veterans are more likely to have
completed college, and employed women veterans are more likely to be in
management and professional occupations.

Women
veterans also hold a variety of personal and professional roles, as mothers,
wives, sisters, partners, etc. Women veterans are more likely than non-veteran
women to be married and tend to get married at a younger age. According to the
DOVA report, roughly 29% of women veterans age 17-24 are married compared with
9% of non-Veteran women. Women veterans are also more likely to have children,
and to have them at a younger age.

Photo by U.S. Army

Servicewomen
also face unique challenges. In a male-dominated setting, servicewomen embrace
culturally unconventional roles and negotiate stereotypes, labels, and
preconceptions of their capability to serve.  In February 2012, women could finally,
officially be assigned to combat battalions. 
They had, however, already served in Iraq and Afghanistan through policy
loopholes that attached them temporarily to combat units. Since 2001, 946 women
have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan and 152 have been killed in action.  A recent book by Tanya Biank titled Undaunted:The Real Story of America’s Servicewomen in Today’s Military, provides an insider’s look into
these women’s experiences.

Despite their
successes and the progress made, compared to their male counterparts, women
veterans still lag behind in the areas of healthcare, insurance and
income.  According to the DOVA report,
women veterans are more likely to have a service-connected disability rating,
less likely to use VA health care, less likely to be insured medically, and
more likely to live in poverty than their male counterparts. They are the
fastest growing segment of the homeless population.

Photo by U.S. Army

Researchers
and psychologists have attributed this to the fact that women are more
vulnerable to Post Traumatic Stress (PTS), both from combat and Military Sexual
Trauma (MST). According to a study from the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center,
53% of homeless women veterans have experienced MST. One in three service women
today report being exposed to a form of sexual violence including sexual
harassment, assault, or rape.

In early June,
four staff members ran a workshop at Stand
Up For Women Veterans
http://www.fsw.org/stand-up-for-women-veterans-june-7-2013,
a daylong conference presented by L.I.V.E. at Westchester Community College in
New York. These workshops addressed the theme of “Identity” from both a
professional and personal perspective. Women veteran participants used
therapeutic and creative arts
techniques to explore issues of identity, pinpoint skills and strengths, and
develop personal and professional goals.

As we discover and explore what makes us unique as individuals, we also
discover what connects us and makes us strong as community. This workshop was
just one step in addressing the unique needs of women veterans.  We know that women veterans are resilient and
Hope For The Warriors® is committed to enhancing this resiliency.

Today’s blog was contributed by Andrea Ford, LMSW, a new regional clinical social worker based in the New York City office of Hope For The Warriors®. She is excited for her new position and to embark on her first project – Hope For The Warriors® Women Veteran’s Initiative. This entry is the first in a series of blog posts where Andrea will address stories, issues, and topics related to women service members and veterans.