Tri is away, and has graciously allowed me to take the helm this week. I know Tri has covered this topic before, but I believe it's worth returning to: Homeless Women Veterans.
Of 141,000 veterans nationwide who spent at least one night in a shelter in 2011, nearly 10 percent were women, according to the latest figures available from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, up from 7.5 percent in 2009. In part it is a reflection of the changing nature of the American military, where women now constitute 14 percent of active-duty forces and 18 percent of the Army National Guard and the Reserves.
But female veterans also face a complex “web of vulnerability,” said Dr. Donna L. Washington, a professor of medicine at U.C.L.A. and a physician at the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs medical center, who has studied the ways the women become homeless, including poverty and military sexual trauma.
Female veterans are far more likely to be single parents than men. Yet more than 60 percent of transitional housing programs receiving grants from the Department of Veterans Affairs did not accept children, or restricted their age and number, according to a 2011 report by the Government Accountability Office.
Women veterans face a dense constellation of issues: low wages, a lack of childcare and family housing options, inadequate gender-specific services at the Veterans Administration and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from combat and Military Sexual Trauma.
“You come out of the Afghan or Iraqi war, as an American woman veteran, at a time when the housing market is terrible, the banks don’t trust you, and its hard to get a job, and you’ve experienced mental health issues as a result of what happened you in the military,” said Dr. Cynthia Enloe, a professor at Clark University and author of Nimo’s War, Emma’s War. “It’s not any wonder that there so many women veterans now who are really suffering the loss of housing.”
Military Sexual Trauma is a common thread in the stories of women who become homeless after returning from service. A recent study by Dr. Donna L. Washington of the UCLA Medical Center and the VA of Greater Los Angeles, estimates that just over half of homeless women veterans were victims of sexual assault. Then, after they serve, they’re faced with a supply of housing for them that remains woefully inadequate. This is all happening as the ranks of women in the military grows and grows.
Boothe is an Army Veteran, who gave 13 years of service to this great nation.
She deployed during the Operation Iraq Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom campaigns and her military career has been dedicated to working with and advocating for Soldiers and their family members.
In 2005, she was a single parent in the Army Reserves living in New Orleans. That spring, she learned she would soon be deploying to Iraq. During her mobilization, Boothe’s life was torn apart by two significant events. In August she lost everything she owned due to Hurricane Katrina. She tried to shift her focus to her platoon that was counting on her for leadership through the deployment. The very next month in September, she received a devastating diagnosis of an aggressive head, neck, and throat cancer, and was now unable to deploy.
Boothe’s options were limited and posed some very hard choices for her. Because of her illness, she was facing discharge from the military. But she needed complex full-time medical care, a job, and a place to live with her young son. When searching for what assistance might be available, she was told there were no existing programs for female Veterans with children and that she should explore welfare and social services as an option, just like every other single mother. Jas then realized that America had forgotten about the women who have served, fought, bled and died along side their male counterparts. She found these options unacceptable for a woman who had honorably served her country and after extensive cancer treatment, including radiation therapy that left life-long side effects, at Brooke Army Medical Center, she was able to stay in the Reserves and immediately began looking for full-time employment and a place for her and her son to live.
In 2006, she relocated to Missouri with her aunt, where she had subsequently accepted a job offer from the Army National Guard. Later in the year, she received an opportunity to return to full-time duty in Washington, DC. Boothe never forgot what she and her son had been through and was determined to ensure her fellow sister Veterans had a resource in their time of need.
Jas Founded Final Salute Inc in November 2010 as part of her commitment to "Never Leave a Fallen Comrade".
Here are some testimonials of Final Salute. Every one of those stories has a common theme.
Returning to the NYT article from above:
On the outskirts of Long Beach, Calif., a national nonprofit group, U.S. Vets, created living quarters for at-risk families at Villages at Cabrillo, former naval housing, with a special program for homeless female veterans.
But the directors soon grew perplexed by the large number of women who were struggling to make it on their own.
“We began to understand that so many of them suffered from sexual trauma,” said Steve Peck, the group’s president and chief executive. “Their inability to cope with those feelings made it impossible for them to put one foot in front of the other.”
The result was Renew, a collaboration with the V.A.’s Long Beach center. It incorporates psychotherapy, journal writing and yoga, and it accepts women who have been screened for military sexual trauma. Each class of a dozen women lives together for 12 weeks while spending eight-hour days at a women’s mental health clinic, “where you can cry and not have to encounter a bunch of men with your mascara running,” as Dr. Katz put it.
We can ever so slowly fix the economy, and we can even end wars, but a simple reality remains: until the military fixes its epidemic of sexual assault on women, we will continue to see homeless women vets. Ironically, I am of the belief that opening up combat roles to women will begin to turn the tide of this blight on our military and nation.
Both of these efforts are worthwhile, but they address the effects of the scourge. They do not get to its cause, which is the hyper-masculine, male-dominant culture of the military. To do that, the military must create a far more welcoming atmosphere for women, who make up only 15 percent of the armed services. It must welcome and value them as equal partners, and it must greatly increase their numbers.
As Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey commented in January, when the Defense Department lifted the ban on women in combat, having “separate classes” of male “warriors” and everyone else creates an environment ripe for sexual assault and harassment. The more that the Pentagon “can treat people equally, the more likely they are to treat each other equally.”
While we wait for this watershed transition, a bigger focus needs to be placed on our women vets with not just equality but with a recognition that women have a different set of needs. It can be done, it has to be done. We cannot continue to honor our female veterans while ignoring the fact that so many have been broken by a male-dominated system. We need to stop the system that breaks them.