“What was it like to be a woman in the Army – and how are you doing now?,” people often ask me, the look on their faces hovering between curiosity and pity. It’s hard to blame them for assuming that being a Soldier must have been a bad experience for me and that I continue to struggle today. From headlines alone, one could come away thinking that my experience comprised only of facing elevated risk of sexual assault in the military, that the experience of women as Veterans is one of unemployment, homelessness, and suicide, and that VA is unable to serve us. Although some women Veterans undoubtedly faced these challenges in their service to our country, and many are under the impression that VA is ill equipped to handle women Veterans’ evolving needs, the reality is far more nuanced.
Like many women, I experienced many challenging situations during my time in the military—including sexual harassment and combat. Ultimately, these challenges made me more resilient and serving taught me how to “lean in.” We do face challenges, but overall women Veterans are more highly educated and more likely to work in management or professional occupations than both their male counterparts and women non-Veterans. Women Veterans also have higher household incomes and are less likely to live in poverty than women who have never served.
To dig deeply into that more complicated story, VA is launching a “State of Women Veterans” social media campaign. For the next 10 weeks, we will provide weekly segments to explore issues impacting women Veterans and what we are doing to support women Veterans as they face these issues. This campaign aims to start new conversations—online and within communities—about the current state of Women Veterans with regard to education, housing, employment, health and more; raise awareness about VA care and benefits; and encourage partnerships. In collaboration with Women Veterans Interactive (WVI)–and with your help–we can raise public awareness of women Veterans’ military and societal contributions and inform women Veterans about accessing the VA benefits they have earned and deserve.
The campaign will culminate in a panel discussion highlighted during WVI’s 5th annual “Extravaganza” at the Georgetown University Hotel and Convention Center during Veterans Day Weekend 2016. VA and other panelists will discuss the state of Women Veterans, what was learned during the campaign and the way forward.
Join in the conversation: read the new blog here every Wednesday, engage online using the hashtag #WomenVets, follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter, and like the VA Facebook page. We’d love to hear how you’re doing and how you plan to improve the state of Women Veterans in your local community.