I had the distinct honor of speaking at an event for Veterans over the Martin Luther King Jr holiday weekend. It was a humbling experience to be able to share my story with the people in the room. I am always thankful for the opportunity to speak to others and share my journey because I never know how my words will touch others, but more importantly I never know how the people in attendance will touch and encourage me as was the case during this event.
A high school friend who I had greatly respected over the years invited me to come out to speak and a good Army friend of mine came out and supported me, I am always so appreciative of the support from my friends.
I soon found out there were people from all walks of life in the room – a mom of a Soldier who recently transitioned from service, former military spouses, a Marine, and politicians. They all took something different from my story that inspired them and they all encouraged me to keep going, to reach and encourage even more Service Members.
During the question and answer discussion we touched upon some heavy topics with regard to transitioning Service Members and Veterans. The one topic of discussion that stirred up emotions in me was the discussion on female Veterans. One of the politicians in the room stated that she speaks to groups of Veterans all the time, and one thing she noticed was the lack of women who showed up for the Veteran events. When she inquired as to why so few women showed up to events geared towards Veterans, the response she got was ‘Females oftentimes don’t view themselves as ‘real’ Veterans.’ I have to be honest, this statement made me a little angry.
‘Real’ Veteran!?! What the hell is that? Someone, male or female, who has served in the military – that’s what it means to me. So by my definition, it includes me – I am a Veteran. I make no apologies by owning my title, I mean 22 years on active duty in the US Army is nothing to sneeze at! Whether you served 3 years or 33 years in the military as a woman, you deserve to proudly wear the title Veteran. If for no other reason, think about all that you sacrificed during your military service. I think about my own sacrifices:
I had to give my mother temporary custody of my son in order to join the military
As a single mother I had to have a fail-proof plan for my son’s daily care, as well as if I was activated for deployment
For the first three years of our marriage, my husband and I lived in two different states
On numerous occasions military training caused me to be separated from my family
I had to deploy and leave my one-year-old daughter (I know this is part of the job but it almost broke me)
My list can go on and on. Yes, I volunteered for a career in the military so I had an idea of the sacrifice that came along with it. Needless to say, it does not make the sting of leaving your family for an extended period of time any less painful. And it is because of this, I wear my title of Veteran proudly.
It really upsets me when other women don’t feel like they’ve earned the right to embrace and own the title Veteran. An article on Military Times website shared the results of a survey that concluded two-thirds of the women surveyed didn’t eel ‘respected and valued as a Veteran’. In addition, 70 percent of the women expressed difficulty in forming strong bonds in their lives after their military career. I can completely relate to the results of this survey and remember feeling undervalued or disrespected as a Military Member – every time I called the medical facility to make an apt for me or my children. I’d politely, but firmly state “I’m the Service Member and my social security number is…”
Let’s face it ladies, we volunteered to join the ‘boys club’ and have yet to be fully integrated. I know, we’ve broken glass ceilings with combat jobs opening up to females across the services and female service members making it through the Army Ranger School. Believe me, I am cheering these trailblazers on from the ‘retired’ sideline. But there is still more work to be done.
The female Veteran population has doubled since 2000
Female Veterans continue to experience unemployment at a higher rate than male Veterans,
Nationwide, nearly one in four VA hospitals does not have a fulltime gynecologist on staff
Female Veterans continue to experience unemployment at a higher rate of their male Veteran counterparts – 6.0% Female Veterans unemployment rate versus 5.2% among Male Veterans
A VA study in 2012 concluded female Veterans were the fastest growing population of homeless Veterans
Yes, there is still much more work to do #BattleBuddy. It’s time for us to raise our voices in concern. It is even more important that we raise our voice and address each other properly – I served too! – I am a Female AND I am a VETERAN! If you are too, then embrace your title today! You earned your seat at the table – now let your voice be heard.