POLITICS

Women Say They Don't Feel 'Respected And Valued' As Veterans In New Survey

06/09/2015 12:11 pm ET | Updated Jun 09, 2015

WASHINGTON -- Women are still struggling to gain respect for their military service and be taken seriously as veterans, according to a new survey released Monday by The Mission Continues.

Only 37 percent of the respondents said they feel "recognized, respected and valued as veterans in civilian life." Female veterans are more likely to struggle with unemployment and homelessness than their male peers.

The Mission Continues is a nonprofit that helps military veterans find opportunities when they return to civilian life. The group surveyed its past fellows, resulting in a snapshot representing the experiences of 71 female veterans.

It's a regular thing to be told I'm too pretty to have served in the military, let alone at war.

Women today make up 16 percent of the post-9/11 veteran population, the highest in history. They are younger, more diverse, less likely to be married and more likely to have experienced sexual harassment during their service than their male peers. They are also more likely to have faced combat than women in previous eras.

Despite these challenges, women still face perceptions after they leave the military that they're somehow not equal to the men they served with. They are often mistaken as a military spouse and encounter programs that are geared toward male veterans.

"Being a woman hugely affects my identify as a veteran," one respondent said. "It's a regular thing to be told I'm too pretty to have served in the military, let alone at war. I've been told I couldn't possibly have any issues relating to war since I was a female and couldn't possibly have experienced anything but rainbows and sunshine while deployed. I've been called a liar."

Eighty-two percent of post-9/11 female veterans said their readjustment to civilian life was difficult, and 44 percent of respondents said it was somewhat or very difficult.

A new government report that also came out Monday finds that female veterans commit suicide at nearly six times the rate of other women, with the rate highest among young veterans.

"It's staggering," Dr. Matthew Miller, a suicide expert at Northeastern University, told the Los Angeles Times. "We have to come to grips with why the rates are so obscenely high."

The system has been slow to catch up. According to The Mission Continues, formal support groups for women in the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are more often geared toward the spouses of male veterans than for women who actually served and may want to connect on issues like sexual harassment and military sexual trauma. And while the number of women seeking medical treatment at the VA has more than doubled since 2000, The Associated Press found that in 2014, 1 in 4 VA hospitals didn't even have a full-time gynecologist on staff.

"I feel ignored, dismissed, disenfranchised everywhere," said another respondent to The Mission Continues survey. "There is no childcare in any VA facilities, everywhere I look it's all about male vets. Even the junk mail about VA loans comes addressed to my husband who is a civilian. But I am proud to be a vet, I wear my colors proudly."

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