The plight of female veterans in this country is making headlines. The New York Times splashed this story across their front page, which features interviews with women from the ADVANCE program at U.S.VETS – Long Beach:
This story originally appeared in the New York Times on February 28, 2013.
Trauma Sets Female Veterans Adrift Back Home
In the caverns of her memory, Tiffany Jackson recalls the job she held, fleetingly, after leaving the military, when she still wore stylish flats and blouses with butterfly collars and worked in a high-rise with a million-dollar view.
Two years later, she had descended into anger and alcohol and left her job. She started hanging out with people who were using cocaine and became an addict herself, huddling against the wind on Skid Row here.
“You feel helpless to stop it,” she said of the cascade of events in which she went from having her own apartment to sleeping in seedy hotels and then, for a year, in the streets, where she joined the growing ranks of homeless female veterans…
…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.
With Dr. Katz and other guides, the women formed an emotional battalion, squaring off against unseen enemies: fear, loneliness, distrust, anger and, most insidious of all, the hardened heart…
Female veterans are at higher risk of homelessness than their male counterparts, 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.
• One in five post-9/11 female veterans are unemployed.
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.
The ADVANCE Women’s Program opened at U.S.VETS – Long Beach in 2001. The program provides sexual trauma treatment, as well as case management, support for substance abuse and mental health treatment, job readiness assistance, access to earned VA benefits, child support aid, and healthy parenting and child care education – all geared toward the specific needs of women.
In January, U.S.VETS was finally able to replicate the ADVANCE program at U.S.VETS – Barbers Point. Homeless female veterans in Hawaii are now able to heal and overcome their struggles through the newly-opened program.
You can help change the life of one of these deserving women.
A donation of just $165 is enough to cover the cost of a woman’s first week in the ADVANCE program – that’s 7 days of specialized sexual trauma treatment, 7 nights in a safe bed.
With a donation of $700, you can pay for one woman’s treatment at ADVANCE for an entire month. Your support will help a female veteran get the care she needs to beat the odds – and take a huge first step on her journey back to a successful life.
Click here to make a donation now.