There are an estimated 1.8 million female veterans in the United States right now. Roughly 25,000 of them live in San Diego County. Women leaving the service have unique needs, and the Department of Veterans Affairs is working to keep up with those challenges.
My television story is posted up top.
When veteran Tara Wise needs to let go of the stress of her hectic day, she heads to the Peace Palace in Encinitas to practice Transcendental Meditation, or TM.
“TM was able to help me realize that I’ll always be a woman veteran, so I embrace that, but also that I’m supposed to have challenges because of my active duty service.”
Wise, who is in her late 30s, served seven years in the Navy. It’s a time in her life she doesn’t like to talk about. Wise was the victim of sexual abuse while in the military, and has been diagnosed with Military Sexual Trauma. She says the anguish she suffered in the military left her in a deep depression when she left the service.
“I was at a place where I saw nothing but complete darkness, and I was suffering from severe depression, and I didn’t know why, that’s the difficult part, not knowing what’s going on with you.”
Wise says she was used to being a part of a sisterhood in the military, and didn’t have that safety net when she rejoined the civilian world. The desire to recreate that female support network inspired Wise to start the National Women Veterans Association of America.
“I’ve had challenges, all the challenges of being a veteran, from being a homeless woman veteran with a child when I first got out of the military I, it was me and my son was 3-years-old, and I really struggled looking for resources, but I was very adamant that I was not going to become one of the statistics.”
And those statistics are startling. According to the Government Accountability Office, the number of homeless female veterans in the United States rose 140 percent between 2006 to 2010.
Wise says the National Women Veterans Association of America works to help female veterans cut through red tape to find the resources that can help them stand on their own two feet.
“Well, you, you try to tap into all the resources and knowing what those resources are is the number one challenge, being able to access those resources and because the veterans, or government, because there’s so much bureaucracy, it’s an overwhelming system and you just have to find your way through and look for doors that will open, very few with specific interests to women veterans.”
Wise says the Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA, needs to do a better job of providing health care that’s unique to women who’ve served.
But the folks at the VA in La Jolla say there’s a variety of services for female veterans most women aren’t aware of. Everything from mammograms to group therapy for Military Sexual Trauma. Debbie Dominick, a licensed social worker at the VA, says outreach is especially important for women veterans. Male veterans often learn about the services the VA provides from their fathers or brothers who were also in the military. But women often don’t have these same connections.
Women make up nearly 12 percent of the veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Dominick says the VA has to respond to this increase in women needing services.
“There’s an observation that there are more women and that we need to be more cognizant of that, and to provide women an opportunity to be together, women who have served to be together."
This is especially true for women who have been diagnosed as suffering from Military Sexual Trauma, like Tara Wise. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 20 percent of women who get their health care through the VA responded "yes" when screened for Military Sexual Trauma.
Dominick says the folks at the VA work hard to be sensitive to the needs to women diagnosed with MST.
“We make that very clear at the first appointment, do you want to have somebody else be in the room with you, would you like an advocate, is there a staff member that can step in – we ask that question.”
Female veterans who want to find out more about the services available to them through the VA can stop by any VA hospital, or go visit the Department of Veterans Affairs website.