Your unique issues
Women veterans: Strong and getting stronger
As a woman veteran, you have selflessly and courageously served our country. But your contributions have not always been recognized. Thankfully, this is changing. The distinctive challenges faced by veteran women are now being recognized and services are now changing to meet the needs of women veterans. And women veterans are forming networks so their voices can be heard. Yet, much remains to be done.
You are not alone
Women veterans are now the fastest growing group of veterans in our country. Over the next decade, the number of women veterans will increase at a rate of about 18,000 per year. Currently, about 10% of all veterans in the United States are women and 17% of Gulf War Era veterans are women. In 2017, 20% of new military recruits were women. Though there have been some improvements in rights and services for women veterans, the battle is not yet won. Many of the challenges faced by women veterans have to do with disability, health care, equal access to services, and transitioning to the workforce.
Unique challenges for women veterans
Women veterans need to be strong. They face a unique set of challenges, both while serving and when transitioning to civilian life. In addition to the barriers faced by all women (lower income levels, discrimination, greater caretaking demands, etc.), women veterans also experience different circumstances:
- They are more likely to be single parents than their civilian counterparts and to be dealing with the demands of raising children on their own.
- They are more likely to have experienced sexual trauma than civilian women and are more likely to be dealing with the repercussions of this experience.
- They face trying to get support services and health care from agencies who are not yet prepared to meet their needs.
- They are less likely to find support and connection with other veterans as these networks are often geared toward male veterans.
Tragically, these and other challenges have contributed to the alarmingly high rates of homelessness and suicide attempts among women veterans.
But there is hope
The growing awareness of the challenges faced by women veterans has given rise to recent improvements in supports and services for women veterans. As the number of women veterans increases, these improvements will continue. These changes are not only about processes and systems. They are also about changing cultures. Over the past decade, the Department of Veterans Affairs has acknowledged the need to change the beliefs and assumptions that have marginalized women who have served. Though this is a continuing journey, programs and services have changed to better serve women veterans.
Women veterans and disability
The rate of disability among women veterans is similar to that of their male counterparts. Yet, women veterans have different types of disabilities. The most common service-connected disabilities for women are post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI), depression, migraines, and back injury. Because women veterans tend to be, on average, younger than male veterans, they are more likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness. (Younger people are more likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness.) Further, their disabilities tend to be more invisible than are those of male veterans. Hence, women veterans tend to struggle more with issues around disclosure and accommodations in the workplace.
Also, women tend to under-utilize veterans’ disability-related services. Research shows that one-in-five women veterans with disabilities have delayed or gone without needed health care during the past year. Finally, women veterans are more likely to be working through disability issues while they have childcare responsibilities. These and other findings suggest that women veterans with disabilities need programs and services that address their unique disability challenges.
Women veterans in education
Fortunately, women veterans have, on average, higher levels of education than either male veterans or civilian women. For example, 31% of women veterans have a bachelor’s degree, as compared to 27% of male veterans, 26% of women civilians, and 27% of male civilians. Yet, as a woman veteran, you do face unique challenges in higher education. You are more likely to have dependent children while attending college than are nonveteran women students. And, you are in a minority on campus. So, you might find it hard to find others on campus who share your experiences and understand your challenges.
Women veterans and employment
Despite having higher levels of education, veteran women still face barriers in employment. In 2019, the unemployment rate for Gulf War Era II (GWEII) women veterans was 4.7%, as compared with 3.4% for their male veteran counterparts, 3.5% for women nonveterans, and 3.7% for nonveteran men.
What about income? During 2018, the median annual income for all women veterans was $35,991. By comparison, the median annual income was $42,064 for male veterans, $37,736 for male nonveterans, and $25,501 for women nonveterans. In a nutshell, GWEII women veterans have higher rates of unemployment than either male veterans or nonveterans. When they are working, they are paid less than their male counterparts, but more than women civilians.
Pay attention to your own needs
As a women veteran, you have selflessly and courageously served your country. You might have done this while you were also serving your family. Now, during this time in transition, it’s time to serve yourself. The same bravery and resolve you brought to your military service now needs to be applied to your transition. Wading through the confusing array of veterans’ services and benefits can be daunting for any veteran. But it’s more daunting for you because some of these resources are not yet fully geared up to meet your unique needs. But things are getting better. Keep trying.
Request services and benefits for women
VA regional health care and benefits services have specialists devoted to women veterans. Also, the Department of Veterans Affairs has a Center for Women Veterans where you can find coordinators and program managers devoted to women veterans in every VA regional office. When using these programs and services, request a person who specializes in issues for women veterans.
Seek support from others
Other women veterans are a great source of support, information, ideas, and comfort. Some traditional veterans’ support organizations have not felt welcoming to women veterans. But things are changing quickly as the number of women veterans increases. Support and connection are there, but you might have to look to find it. For more, visit the Deeper Dive for this topic.
Sadly, women veterans are at higher risk of homelessness and suicide. The situations that give rise to loss of shelter and loss of hope are usually temporary. But the consequences might not be. Over time and with help, your situation will get better. If you’re starting to spiral downward, acknowledge that you need help. The earlier you reach out, the sooner you’ll be back on track. Look at the bottom any page on this site—including this one—for links to get immediate, free support in a crisis situation. Don’t wait.
Speak up and advocate
“When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.” —Maya Angelou
By joining others and speaking up about your life as a woman veteran, you not only help others, but you start to surround yourself with other women who have navigated the journey you are now on. They can provide support, information, resources, and comfort. And when you do the same for other women, you also become stronger. Go to the Deeper Dive for this topic to find out more.
 Nanda, N. (2016). Women veteran economic and employment characteristics. IMPAQ International.