Women have always played an important part in the military. Whether it was helping men on the battlefields of 19th century Crimea or repairing airplanes in WWII, Rosie the Riveter was right: we CAN do it. Today, the percentage of females actively serving in the military continues to grow, and makes up almost 15% of the United States Armed Forces.
But as we honor fallen service members this Memorial Day, let's also remember that living veterans, especially women, are still struggling.
Here are seven shocking—and, frankly, sad—facts everyone should know.
1) In 2012 8.3% of women veterans were unemployed (compared to 6.9% of male veterans).
Researchers say this is due to a mix of the standard sexual discrimination women already face in the job market, and employers wary of younger veterans "whose only job experience was in the military." Sadly, many employers believe that the valuable skills veterans learned in combat are just not marketable; and due to their time in the service, veterans also miss out on the traditional education opportunities necessary to help secure jobs.
2) Between 2006-2010, the number of women veterans identified as homeless by the Department of Veterans Affairs more than doubled.
Despite a certain amount of aid available to veterans, there is an alarming lack of housing for female veterans with children. Frequently these accommodations are only in "mixed-gender settings," where there is often the threat of sexual harassment or assault.
3) Single parent households are frequent: 23% of female Veterans are divorced, compared with 12% of non-veterans, while 39% have children. And they're more economically vulnerable.
According to many studies, military women with children are less likely to secure the same strong support networks as their male counterparts. For example, veterans whose husbands are still on active duty must immediately begin caring for their children, frequently without the help of a proper readjustment period. In addition, access to affordable childcare may be difficult, which handicaps veterans in their pursuit of employment, education, and proper mental healthcare.
4) When polled by the Veterans Health Administration, 1 in 5 female veterans admitted they had been the victims of Military Sexual Trauma (MST).
But these are just the brave women that choose to come forward. Many, who may work either with or under their abuser, choose to remain silent. According to a study, 33% of women polled experienced rape or attempted rape and up to 84% of women experienced sexual assault or harassment while on active military duty.
5) Research suggests that 81-93% of women veterans have been exposed to some type of trauma over their lifetime.
This is much higher than the civilian female population, a still alarming 51%-69%, and also encapsulates past traumas received prior to enlistment. This includes child abuse, adult physical and sexual assault, and domestic violence. According to one researcher, "These numbers suggest that some women may choose to join the military as a means to escape abusive or violent home environments."
6) A recent estimate for lifetime prevalence of PTSD among women veterans is 27%, compared to 10-12% among civilian women.
Unchecked PTSD can also lead to substance abuse issues. A report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicated that 22% of women in the U.S. Army stated that they "used alcohol as a way to cope with stress in their lives." This can cause health, relationship, and even legal troubles. According to a 2004 study by the U.S. Department of Justice, it was estimated that veterans made up roughly 10% of the population of state and federal prisons.
7) A third of VA health clinics don’t even have an OBGYN on staff.
According to a post from Fusion's own Taryn Hillin, “female veterans looking for gynecological services, breast care, prenatal and obstetrical care, neonatal care, or fertility services was either outsourced to a different medical facility (which can mean more costs) or they were just shit out of luck."
This level of grimness seems downright criminal. As the Huffington Post reported in 2014, "One of every two women veterans, for example, has received medication from a VA pharmacy that could cause birth defects.”
These are all shocking statistics, and our veterans deserve better. Luckily there are also organizations working to help. One is Final Salute, a non-profit that provides female veterans with transitional housing, job assistance, financial planning and education and a range of other services. There are also literally dozens of others to choose from.
As you fire up the grill this weekend and give thanks, why not also take a moment to give back?
Laura Feinstein is the Head of Social Stories at Fusion. Formerly, she held staff roles as the East Coast Editor of GOOD Magazine and the EIC of The Creators Project at VICE, and has contributed to The Guardian, T/The New York Times, Paper Magazine and many others. She specializes in the niche, the esoteric and the un-boring.