MSEJ August 2018 - Page 8

The Veteran in the Mirror

By Charlie Palumbo, CASY & MSCCN Writing Intern

I once heard Kayla Williams, Senior Fellow and Director, Military, Veterans, and Society Program at the Center for New American Studies, tell a story about herself and a three-legged dog. He was thanked for his service, but she wasn’t.

For women who are Veterans, this story might get a pained laugh—we laugh because we understand, we laugh because we know her truth. It’s easier for people to imagine a dog in combat and thank him than to imagine a woman who has been to war.

Major Mary Jennings Hager, a Veteran, Purple Heart recipient, and advocate known for her success in lifting the ban on combat roles for women, articulated a similar encounter. A man told her he really appreciated her story, but asked when she was going to give back her stolen valor.

Perhaps it’s no wonder women don’t always own and advertise their Veteran status.

Woman, check. Veteran (Check?)

Despite these encounters, women are the fastest growing segment of the Veteran population. Of the approximately 22 million Veterans in the United States, two million are women. As the dynamics of the Veteran population change, data suggests the need for more studies regarding the female Veteran population and our current systems for Veteran employment, healthcare, and education.

I see a need for these studies on a daily basis. As I work with women Veterans, guiding them through job transitions and employment hurdles, it’s become painstakingly clear to me that they don’t self-identify as Veterans. Initially, I couldn’t understand why this was the case. I am a Veteran, I work in employment—I know that being a Veteran can add to your desirability in the job market.

When I ask women Veterans why they distance themselves from their Veteran status, I receive a range of answers. I didn’t know I was a Veteran. I couldn’t serve during combat. I didn’t want to take anyone else’s benefits. When I think of the military, I think of my sexual trauma. I was medically separated, and nobody told me I was a Veteran. While this is not an exhaustive list, it does highlight the female Veteran experience, and the way that some of these women view their Veteran status.

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