Many people think female veterans are such a small minority that they are practically invisible. Surprisingly, female veterans are not such a small number anymore. In the nation as a whole, female veterans comprise approximately 9.2 percent of all veterans; however, in Idaho, female veterans command an even higher percentage, comprising about 12 percent of all Idaho veterans. Not only do female veterans represent a significant percentage of all veterans, but they are the fastest growing group in the veteran community.
Prior to 1973, legislation placed a cap on female participation in the military at two percent. After that, women joined the armed forces in greater numbers. Recently, women have made up about 20 percent of new recruits. Even with the increased involvement of women in the military, women veterans feel that they were less valued than their male counterparts during their time of service. They also have greater gaps in their knowledge about what VA benefits are available to them.
Veteran’s groups have begun to take notice of female veterans as they attempt to see that their unique needs are being addressed. In an in-depth study conducted by the DAV in 2014, Women Veterans: The Long Journey Home, recommendations were made to address the specific problems female veterans face. The list was extensive comprising approximately 55 pages of detailed information. This illustrates the desperate need to change the way female veterans are treated by the VA and other veterans’ groups.
The Department of Defense acknowledged in the study that women in the military face barriers to full integration. As stated in the study: “This is manifest by lack of attention to adequate protective equipment designed for women, disparities in promotion, and sexual harassment and assault within DoD.” As veterans, women still face barriers in the form of lack of access to a full range of gender-sensitive benefits and services and, at times, a lack of sensitivity by the staff in veterans’ agencies.
One important area that is slowly evolving to meet female veterans’ needs is VA Healthcare. The DAV study noted that one-third of VA Medical Centers did not have a gynecologist on staff. It recommended that VA Medical Centers be able to provide a full range of primary and specialty care to women veterans. The most frequent conditions noted in women veterans who seek care at a VA Medical Center are musculoskeletal conditions, mental health disorders, nervous system conditions, genitourinary, digestive system, endocrine and metabolic disorders, and respiratory conditions.
Another area of concern for female veterans is their transition from active military life to civilian life. Of female veterans who have served Post 9/11, nearly 55 percent have sought treatment through the VA for mental health issues. The most commonly diagnosed problems in these women are adjustment disorders, depression, anxiety disorders, and PTSD. The VA has experimented with VA women veterans’ retreat programs which has shown great success with women veterans’ unique problems. It has proven results of 80 percent or better in improving women’s sense of well-being providing them with improved coping skills and stress reduction.
If you are a female veteran living in Minidoka County or Cassia County, please contact the Mini-Cassia Veteran Service Officer, Chuck Driscoll. His office is located at 625 Fremont Avenue in Rupert. You may call for an appointment at 208-678-3599. He will help you register with the VA and help you investigate the benefits or programs which you are entitled to participate in.