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AAUW: Female veterans face challenges

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POTSDAM - On Veteran’s Day, AAUW remembers the sacrifice and the service of our women veterans and service members. The number of female veterans has soared since 1990, from 4 percent of all veterans to 8 percent today, or about 1.8 million. More than 280,000 female soldiers have been returned from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last decade.

The needs and challenges facing New York’s women veterans are many. It is time for New York State to ensure women veterans get the important employment protections in the Women’s Equality Agenda that fight housing and employment discrimination, sexual harassment on the job, equal pay and expanded access to legal justice. This state needs laws as strong as NY’s women.

Because female veterans do not always identify themselves as veterans, they are not always aware of benefits they qualify for. In America, the term “veteran” has historically only been applied to men, especially because women have not been deployed in combat-specific roles until recently, despite still experiencing extreme warfare in combat-support roles.

Post-9/11 Iraq and Afghanistan war female veterans are less likely to find a job than their male counterparts. The unemployment rate for post-9/11 female veterans hit a high of 19.9 percent in late 2012. Many women veterans may have a harder time turning their specialized military occupation skills into a civilian job because they are specialized in skills that are non-traditional for their gender, such as transportation or mechanic specialists.

High unemployment leaves women veterans at risk for homelessness. Female veterans are the fastest-growing segment of the country’s homeless population. In 2011, 18 percent of homeless veterans assisted by the VA were women. Female veterans are two to three times more likely to be homeless than any other group in the U.S. adult population. Female homeless veterans represent an estimated 3% of homeless veterans.

Women vets are more likely than male homeless vets to be married and to suffer serious psychiatric illness, but less likely to be employed and to suffer from addiction disorders. While only 8 percent of Americans can claim veteran status, 17 percent of our homeless population is made up of veterans.

Female veterans can find themselves unable to successfully enter and stay in the labor market after their service for a number of reasons. A disproportionate number of female veterans have suffered military sexual trauma (MST). According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, one in five female veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have screened positive for MST, and that only counts the veterans that went to the VA for help; many do not.

Many women veterans are also single moms and often they need as much help with achieving stability for their kids with child care and schooling as they need help finding employment for themselves and housing for their family. Something many non-veteran women also struggle with.

Nearly half a million (467,877) veterans are severely rent burdened and paying more than 50 percent of their income for rent. More than half (55 percent) of veterans with severe housing cost burden fell below the poverty level and 43 percent receive food stamps. In 2008, $31 million of SNAP/food stamps funding was spent at military commissaries to help feed military members and their families who struggle against hunger. There has been a massive increase in the number of military families seeking assistance - about $100 million in the last year.

AAUW-St. Lawrence County is a member of the Women’s Equality Coalition. The measures of the Women’s Equality Agenda that will help ensure our women veterans get the economic security, justice and freedom from violence are essential to women’s equality for them and all of NY’s 10 million women.

Membership in the St. Lawrence County Branch is open to anyone who supports the mission of AAUW. AAUW advances equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, and research. AAUW’s commitment to equity is reflected in its public policy advocacy, community programs, leadership development, conventions and conferences, national partnerships, and international connections.

AAUW, with its nationwide network of more than 150,000 members and supporters, more than 1,000 branches conducting programs in communities across the country, and 869 college and university partners (including all four local collages), has been a leading advocate for equity and education for women and their families since 1881.

For more information about AAUW in St. Lawrence County, contact President Jennifer Ball at 268- 4208 or jball@clarkson.edu or Public Policy Chair Kathleen Stein at 386-3812, kstein1@twcny.rr.com, or visit the branch website, http://www.northnet.org/stlawrenceaauw/index.html.

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