U.S.VETS – Long Beach held the third annual Female Stand Down on July 19. Female veterans were invited to come to the the special event held in honor of women who served in the armed forces “yesterday, today and tomorrow”. Over 235 women received services at the stand down, which was held at beautiful Shoreline Park in Long Beach, California.
The Stand Down was an opportunity for women who have or are currently serving in the military to come together and receive support and vital services to help improve their lives. Dozens of vendors set up booths and tables to provide attendees with information about housing, employment, benefits, legal services, and more. Medical, dental, and vision clinics were available, as well as other health and wellness services such as yoga classes. Women at the stand down were also pampered with free clothing, makeup, and massages.
The day kicked off with free breakfast, followed by a brief opening ceremony. The keynote speakers were Stephanie Stone, Chief Deputy Director of LA County Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, and Major Lenora Ingram, who also sang a beautiful rendition of the national anthem. They were joined at the podium by Steve Peck, President & CEO of U.S.VETS. “We at U.S.VETS have always tried to respond to the needs we see among the veterans who come to our doors,” said Peck during his remarks. “Not all veterans are alike and we have designed special needs programs to address the particular issues within the veterans’ population. While our armed forces prepare to allow women to move into front line combat roles, it’s vital we remember women have been in the fight for years and many of them need significant help when they try to return to civilian life.”
There is a great need for specialized services for female veterans returning from military service. Female veterans are at higher risk of homelessness than their male counterparts. Of the 141,000 veterans nationwide who spent at least one night in a shelter in 2011, nearly 10 percent were women. This is a significant increase 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. Women also must deal with more risk factors for homelessness, and the statistics tell us why:
• One in five female veterans experience Military Sexual Trauma – meaning sexual assault or repeated threatening acts of sexual harassment.
• One in five female veterans suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which leads to increased substance abuse and homelessness.
• And one in five post-9/11 female veterans are unemployed.
“We need to do more,” Peck said. “Long after the images of the war disappear from our TV’s and newspapers, thousands of families will be living with the memory of a loved one killed in combat; tens of thousands of physically wounded veterans and their families will live with the daily reminder of their disability. Some of the wounds our soldiers suffer are evident; lost limbs, blindness, spinal cord injuries. These wounds are immediately recognizable and understood. But many more come back with the invisible wounds of war, combat trauma, traumatic brain injury, and these disabled veterans will number in the hundreds of thousands.
“Sadly, one of those invisible wounds is sexual trauma suffered by way too many women while in the military. Though they may look outwardly the same, these women are forever changed. The journey back to an emotionally stable and fulfilling life can be long and difficult, so we’re here today to do everything we can to facilitate this journey, because we know that journey is possible.”
One poignant example of the difficult journey many female veterans face is Alex, a Marine who came through the U.S.VETS program last year:“When I came to U.S.VETS in August of 2012 I was a women without hope. At the age of 47 I had overcome a lot of trauma. I was raped while in the Marine Corps and struggled with PTSD. My two children were killed by a drunk driver at the age of 5 and 6. I had no successful long term relationships. I had earned a nursing degree and maintained a home and a job, but I was severely depressed. In 2010 I was convicted of a felony, spent 2 years in prison, lost my nursing license and was homeless. When I was released from prison I came to U.S.VETS, convinced that I had no professional future and that I would never feel any thing but shame, anger and regret.
“My case manager refused to let my felony conviction define me. She saw the good in me that I had lost site of. With her encouragement I applied for and was awarded a 30% rating from the V.A. for MST/PTSD. Then she nudged me to apply for Vocational Rehab. She kept on me to complete parole. She kept me calm when hope made it’s self known to me. Hope was such an unfamiliar emotion, it scared me. She had faith in me until I could have it in my self.[quote align=”right” color=”#999999″]Hope was such an unfamiliar emotion, it scared me… Now I am a woman full of hope.[/quote]
“Now I am a women full of hope. My self esteem is once again intact. I received my HUD/VASH voucher and for the first time in 3 years, I have my own home. I have completed parole, I am starting school in January to earn a Doctorate in substance abuse counseling. I have a job I love and a car to take me to that future. I have people in my life that I am not afraid to love.
“The most important of all of these gifts is hope. Living life without hope is debilitating and the joy that I feel on a daily basis now is a gift all the people at U.S.VETS have given me.”
Stories like Alex’s are the reason why continued support for female veterans is so important. Specialized programs like ADVANCE provide a safe and supportive environment to help female veterans overcome obstacles related to Military Sexual Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress. As more women step up to serve in our nation’s military, we need to be more active in providing them with the help they need to make a successful transition back home.