Female veteran issues are diverse. It isn’t the same as being a male veteran. It is challenging and taxing. Regularly women find themselves misunderstood just by saying, “I am a veteran.” And while everyone’s experience when they leave the military is different. There are certain aspects that make the challenge of being a woman who is a veteran very different from a male veteran.
The simple truth is women do not meet the stereotype of what a military service member “looks like.” And when women identify as a veteran they can experience negative reactions. This happens in many different forms.
Female veteran issues:
When veterans are recognized as ceremonies and both military veterans and military spouses stand up or raise their hand women are assumed to be military spouses. And even if military spouses are not mentioned and only veterans are recognized. People will come up to the men who have raised their hands and thank them for their service. Often ignoring the women standing right next to them. Women are often assumed to be military spouses or not worthy of being thanked for their service.
Being questioned for your service
Unlike women, men are not questioned if they did enough to be a veteran. Women often get push back for their service. Or are ignored when they mention their military service. My husband is a service member and I am a veteran. People regularly ask him about his experience. They don’t know what to say to me and rarely ask me about my experience. I have even had occasion when my husband wasn’t there and I had to explain that I was a veteran. I could share my story instead of answering their questions about my husband’s service. Their response was a look of confusion and another question about my husband’s service.
Being stuck in the middle
Many women who leave the service take off their uniforms and become military spouses. As military spouses, they find themselves in a limbo of being too “dependa” for the military service members they once were. And too tough for the military spouse community. It leads many military spouse veterans to hide their military service. Some also choose to not be involved leading to loneliness. Loneliness is a common struggle of female veterans.
Heading to VA
When women go to Veteran Affairs they are often questioned if they are dependents. And not just when they check-in but also by the doctors who they meet with. The VA should be a place that welcomes the servicewomen who have served. But even today with all the positive changes made for women within the VA health care system this challenge continues to come up.
Recently I wrote an article sharing my experience as a combat veteran in Afghanistan.
While most of the comments were positive. I also received comments about how I do not need to share my story because all veterans are the same. That the work I did is recognized because I did my job. But this is not a true statement. Women have been fighting in combat zones on the front lines well before Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. And few people know their stories. And when it was announced women were formally allowed to serve in combat in 2013 a woman came up to me and to ask me if I was going to leave the military since I could now be in combat. I already deployed to Afghanistan in 2010.
Being a voice for the female veteran issues is not easy but it is so important that we highlight and share the stories of women so we can change the culture and the future for the women who are following in our footsteps.
So many women walk away from the veteran community and never share their story and this history is lost. So many women served in combat units (Female Engagement Teams, Cultural Support Teams, Lioness) and were told not to share their experience publicly because women could not be in combat. Not sharing our story has led to the general public not understanding the role and importance of women.
It is important that women stand up and share their stories. But we can’t do it alone. The support from the male veteran community is essential to helping others understand our struggle. I believe there is the power for change. We just have to keep fighting.