The Fastest Growing Population of Veterans Needs Help and Recognition
Often times, it is easy to forget that Veterans are comprised of groups. Army, Air Force, Navy, reservist, and active duty soldiers are thrown together in the broad spectrum of Veterans with little insight into their diverse needs.
This is no different for male and female Veterans. In the post-September 11, 2001 era for Veterans (the most commonly used metric when discussing the current population of former soldiers), Retired Servicewomen could be the face of a new crisis.
Evidence is beginning to mount that the VA and those attempting to provide much-needed services for our former women in uniform are failing. Sadly, forgetting to recognize the service of women in the military is nothing new.
Amazingly, the first time the United States government began gathering data about female Veterans was 1980! A Boston Globe story cited the number of female former soldiers at 1.2 million in 1980. In a few decades, the number of female Veterans has doubled, yet services continue to lag behind acceptable standards.
Trouble with the Transition
The Disabled American Veterans, or DAV organization, recently found that Retired Servicewomen possibly face a steeper transition to civilian life than their male counterparts. Their report “Women Veterans: The Long Journey Home” states that “female Veterans are less likely to be married, more likely to be married to a fellow service member, more likely to be a single parent, more likely to be divorced, and more likely to be unemployed after service.” A Washington Post article mentions that female Veterans are more likely to return home with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and musculoskeletal damage like back, knee, and hip pain. The article is quick to point out that while all Veterans could have serious issues with physical pain and mental health, female Veterans fail to receive adequate services to deal with these issues.
Many of the problems are simply due to a change in demographics in the military. Female members of the military continue to expand, according to the Boston Globe, consisting of about ten percent of all Veterans, or 2.2 million. The VA has approximately 950 hospitals and clinics throughout the United States and only 77 of them are classified as “comprehensive women’s centers,” according to recent information. That’s little more than 12 percent! The DAV reports that one-third of all VA Medical Centers have a gynecologist on staff. Simply put, the established institutions for Veterans exclusive serve male Veterans because males have traditionally dominated military service. Unsurprisingly, diversity and change in the ranks of the military are failing to be recognized or are ignored.
Female Veterans face a woefully out dated Veteran health care system and a shortage of up-to-date medical facilities. The DAV report relays the troubling statistic that 1 in 5 female Veterans has delayed or gone without needed medical care in the past year, and that “women lack consistent access to a full range of gender-sensitive benefits and services.” Unfortunately, the DAV Report was one of many organizations to uncover a lack of services and acceptable care for women who served in the Armed Services.
An April 2014 Congressional Report cited that VA service providers were “sanding down” prosthetic limbs originally designed for men and trying to fit them on female Veterans. The folks at the Boston Globe scoured the ranks of the military branches to discover a startling lack of military equipment specifically designed for women. For example, the United States Army maintains 2,963 female-specific body armor vests. A minor problem is that there are an estimated 74,000 female soldiers in the Army. VA health administrators confirmed that, according to the article, many female Veterans have back or foot problems because they are supplied with men’s size boots that don’t fit (a common fix was stuffing socks in the toe of the boot so a women’s foot won’t slide around).
Respecting the Uniform, No Matter Who Wears It
One of the most glaring issues faced by female Veterans is recognition. The VA Women’s Task Force was quoted in the DAV report as saying there is a “need for culture change across VA to reverse the enduring perception that a women who comes to the VA for services is not a Veteran herself, but a male Veteran’s wife, mother, or daughter.”
Any Veteran can face serious challenges once their service is complete. Wounds suffered from combat, PTSD, or the transition from military service to a civilian lifestyle are some of the many common themes all Veterans fight. Female Veterans are quickly becoming a large portion of the former military population, and glaring holes are affecting their well-being.
Funding for Veterans at any level can be a dogfight, as budget cuts and public debate constantly tug on the purse strings of taxpayer dollars. But too many of the problems faced by female Veterans are the result of bad planning and the failure by those in charge to anticipate the needs of a growing part of the Veteran population. Providing essential services like gear that fits and gender-specific health care are not complicated solutions. They are a necessity to a changing dynamic in the military population.