by Dr. Amy Stevens, Ed.D., Chief of Women’s Programs for VETLANTA
Coca-Cola will host a military veteran’s summit on September 25, for VETLANTA, the premier local organization supporting all veterans in transition home to civilian life. The VETLANTA Summit will feature keynote speaker Sarah Plummer Taylor, “Semper Sarah,” a combat Iraq Marine veteran who shares her experiences on how she has thrived since leaving active duty.
Why is this free veteran event important to attend? Although the majority of service women have deployed to combat zones over the past 18 years, few are given the respect of a hero-returned-home. The VA now considers women to be the fastest growing group of veterans. The 16-county Atlanta metro area has one of the largest enclaves of women veterans with almost 39,000 women living in the area. About 20,000 receive some sort of service from the Veterans Administration (VA) each year.
Yet, women veterans seem to be invisible… most people are surprised to know there are so many. Women veterans often feel unwelcome in the veteran community and do not receive many of the benefits they are entitled to receive. Women who go to traditional veteran organizations or even VA facilities, say they are often mistaken for being spouses. Others report that they are harassed by other veterans with sexually explicit comments.
Societal and workplace penalties are often high for women who need to create new identities when they leave active duty. The sometimes high-speed aggressiveness needed for being successful in mostly male-military environments is viewed less favorably when competing with civilian women. Most veterans know that they must change their behavior from military to civilian style. The female gender fit does not align as well in corporate America nor in the Sunday School pot-luck club. Many women step back into traditional roles, not their true selves, just to fit in. Finding an understanding peer support network where they can share their experience is almost non-existent for these women. This can lead to isolation during transition and compounds other issues. VETLANTA hopes to help overcome that gap.
Trouble fitting in is the key factor. The workplace gender pay gap is huge. Sixty-seven percent of women veterans face financial instability on exiting the military versus forty-seven percent of men. Higher expenses are incurred as more women veterans also are likely to be single parents and face childcare challenges. Female veterans have higher rates of depression and PTSD than civilian women. Health concerns often go untreated. And up to 20% of all women veterans have experienced some level of military sexual trauma during their service years. Female veterans are at least twice as likely to be homeless as non-veteran women. The suicide rate among women veterans is more than twice that of adult civilian women.
A starting place for helping women veterans in the Atlanta area is getting involved in organizations such as VETLANTA. Networking and resource exchange can help ensure more veterans know what is available in their communities. Be on the lookout for female veterans within your professional networks. Help these invisible veterans feel seen once more.
Dr. Amy Stevens, Ed.D. is VETLANTA’s Chief of Women’s Programs. She is also the Founder of Georgia Military Women, a veteran social group with more than 3,200 members. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.