I am a Veteran. There, I said it!
I am proud of my military service but for a long time, I haven’t considered myself a Veteran.
About a year after returning from deployment, I retired from the California Army National Guard (CAARNG). I thought I was ready and knew how to transition back to civilian life because I already had one deployment under my belt (my husband deployed in 2005), I counseled soldiers with transition plans and what to expect after deployment, and everyone in my unit came home in one piece. It was a job, it needed to be done, and I breathed a sigh of relief when everyone made it home. I had a plan and I thought I had it all figured out. Boy, was I wrong. I never expected to miss my fellow soldiers, to miss that sense of belonging and being understood, to feel loneliness and to begin to realize how much I marginalized the scope of my responsibility during deployment. I became disoriented and lost my sense of purpose.
To find peace, I joined a burgeoning nonprofit organization working with the San Jose Vet Center to help Veterans transition into civilian life. California is home to almost 145,000 women who served in the military and in the past year, I’ve only met three women who self-identified as Veterans. I started to get irritated because they were missing out on benefits and services meant for them. The thing was – I wasn’t identifying as a Veteran, so I was perceived as someone who wouldn’t understand the soldier’s point of view. In Katie Foley’s A few of the unique challenges of being a female Veteran, the first experience she shared was being mistaken as the spouse while she was going for her therapy and that the care provider didn’t expect “girls” to be injured in the military. Every time my husband and I go to our VA appointments (because we are efficient like that and sync our appointment calendars ?), most people assume that I am the dependent; the spouse. I mean, I’m small compared to my husband but still… I served.
Women Veterans are missing out on benefits and services by denying their Veteran status. In sharing my story, I hope to encourage you to do the same. Share your stories, your experiences, and empower others to do the same. There are many resources available and more are popping out this year.
Here are a few resources that can help you get started.
The Center for Women Veterans (CWV) monitor and coordinate the VA’s programs for women Veterans. They serve as advocates and raise awareness to treat women with dignity and respect. They do that be sharing videos to challenge viewers about their notions of female Veterans: I Served , She Wore These, and I Am A Veteran. They also have a series of webcasts that provide information on benefits and services for women Veterans.
CALVET has a Women Veterans Page that provides a ton of resources for women’s health, outreach, entrepreneurship and employment, advocacy and a list of organization specific to women Veterans. Although most of the organizations are on the east coast, there are two that are located in Southern California: The Women Veteran’s Alliance and Foundation for Women Warriors.
The US Dept. of Veterans Affairs designated CA Women Veteran Program Managers to help coordinate the services you may need. Those benefits may include sexual abuse counseling, pregnancy care, program for Homeless Women Veterans, and more.
HUD-VASH Information for Tenants, homeless Veterans is a great resource that helps Veterans establish permanent housing and work on personal goals and dreams. It has housing and rental listing by county and helpful resources for application.
California Association for Micro Enterprise Opportunity (CAMEO), located in San Francisco, expand micro financing and business assistance by cultivating resources, providing public awareness, and advocating for California in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.
Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-Wise) help women Veterans and spouses/partners with their journey to entrepreneurship by helping them learn business savvy skills to do a start-up or grow their project.
Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise (DVBE) program help disabled Veterans compete more effectively for California contracts, and promote self-reliance. The California Department of General Services (DGS) provides a brochure that explains how to be certified, as well as, other resources to help you get started.
The Santa Clara County Network of Care is an online information portal for the county. It has links of the resources, critical information, advocacy tools, and anything a Veteran may need for reintegration.
Being a volunteer with Know A Vet is sort of my therapy because it engages me to participate while allowing me to help others in need. It also forces me to research the benefits and services available to me and other Veterans. I found my purpose. How do you manage your transition?