The bullets, the improvised explosive devices, the deprivation — all the dangers and challenges our armed forces face, well, they’re the same for our women in uniform, as well as the men.
And the challenges facing returning veterans are well-documented: homelessness, unemployment, post-traumatic stress and other emotional damage.
For myriad reasons, it’s been found, female veterans are not availing themselves of the supportive services offered in by various agencies, the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA) chief among them.
To its credit, the Connecticut General Assembly is considering a bill that would help the estimated 16,545 female veterans living in Connecticut.
And given the state of world affairs and the surge in women joining the military after Sept. 11, 2001, that number is only going to grow. The VA, in a report issued last month, estimated that in 2012 there were some 1.6 million female veterans in the U.S. It’s estimated now there are more than 2 million.
A bill passed by the Connecticut legislature’s Veterans’ Affairs Committee earlier this month, substitute Senate bill 904, would create an organization called the Connecticut Women Veterans’ Program that would work to educate female veterans about federal and state programs and benefits to which they are entitled. The bill is headed now for the state Senate, which we would encourage to approve creation of this program.
It is a convergence of reasons, according to experts, that keeps female veterans from taking advantage of available opportunities.
Heather Sandler, of Glastonbury, a U.S. Navy veteran who now is on the staff of U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., speaks from experience when she noted recently that the female veteran demographic is hard to reach.
According to Sandler and other military females, women veterans are often not aware of resources available or have a negative opinion of those services.
A federal VA report released last month showed that women veterans — at a rate of 7.7 percent — were less likely than males — at 5.7 percent — to have insurance.
The report also showed that women veterans were more likely to have service-related disabilities but were less likely to use Veterans Health Administration services.
The gender disparities in post-service experiences go on and on. Connecticut’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, in written comments supporting the bill, testified that women veterans are at increased risk of sexual assault, which often leads to post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
The commission, in fact, may have hit on the central issue in the situation: the U.S. military through its history has been a male-dominated organization and, in written testimony, the commission noted, “… long-standing veterans’ programs were not developed with the unique needs of women veterans in mind.”
This is why the state is doing the right thing in making the effort to educate and assist women veterans in knowing about and getting the help they’ve earned and so richly deserve.