Two days ago, I got a call asking me to attend an event at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington Cemetery: Launch of the Trauma-Informed Care for Women Veterans Experiencing Homelessness by the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau.
I rarely ever talk about my time in the military for reasons I never thought about until I got that call. In fact, I never really referred to myself as a veteran because, well, it just didn’t feel right. When I hear the word “veteran,” I always think of wounded men returning home from war as do countless others I learned after asking my students to describe a “veteran.
So, a little reluctantly, I agreed to go. I had no idea what to expect or how to feel. I just knew that I was going there to meet a few people to offer my services to; I am a writer, you know. And I did talk to people. I also learned some hard-core facts such as women veterans are 4x more likely to be homeless than men and more military women are raped than women in the general population. I bet you didn’t know that last part? Why? Because as was so eloquently stated by Congresswoman Gwen Moore and reinforced by U.S. Department of Labor Secretary, Hilda Solis, military women suffer in silence.
1 i n 3 female veterans reported either being a victim of rape or assault while in the service. I thought about this statistic which Secretary Solis shared, and then it hit me why I rarely talk about my time in the military. I know of women in my unit who were sexually and physically assaulted and our commanders, the people we trusted, turned a blind eye. “He’s a good airman,” they’d say. “He wouldn’t do that.”
I guess I was suffering in silence too for not telling the world I was a veteran. Because even in 2011, it still feels like women and our voices do not matter. But that all changed today as a room of over 100 (and men) sat eagerly and patiently to hear about the new guide created by the Women’s Bureau and their sister organizations to help tell the stories of women veterans who are suffering in silence. Our stories, our voices, our service matters, they said. And they now had a way – tools – to help treat women veterans who are in need. Because when these women come home from war, they shouldn’t have to fight another one, a more deadly one, at home. They deserve better, Congresswoman Moore reiterated frequently.
To download the guide, visit www.dol.gov/wb or call 202-693-6710. And tell them you learned about the guide from a woman veteran who has just reclaimed her voice and her rightful title of “veteran.”