The toughness and resilience of hundreds of women who have distinguished themselves in their military occupations belie the challenges they face upon separating from the military. A productive career in the armed forces does not always equate to a smooth reintegration, and female veterans in particular are especially at risk.  

I speak from experience, 17 years of which were served in the U.S. Navy.  

Although battlefields do not distinguish between men and women, and the civilian world tries its best to level the playing field, women face inherent challenges when they transition back into their communities. Statistics paint a less-than-welcoming homecoming:

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  • Female vets are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than non-veteran women
  • One in five female vets are homeless
  • 12.5 percent of female post-9/11 vets are unemployed, more than their civilian counterparts
  • 39 percent of all female veterans under the age of 65 have children 17 years old or younger living at home, compared with 35 percent of non-vets

With more than two million female veterans in the United States and an estimated 200,000 women currently in the military who will be transitioning out within the next few years, this is a problem that cannot wait to be solved.  

A newly released report from Easter Seals, “Call to Action: Support Community Efforts to Improve the Transition to Civilian Life for Women Veterans,” states that veteran reintegration works best when it is local, tailored individually and holistically to meet the unique needs of each veteran. Put another way, what works for a man doesn’t always work for a woman.  

In a male-dominated profession like the U.S. military, women – myself included – often put in extra effort to be seen as strong, capable, talented equals.  It’s a nuance of military culture that many well-meaning civilians do not grasp. For example, I have seen post-deployment group counseling sessions that mix genders   

In another instance, immediate action is needed to close the service and benefit gap that exists for female veterans in areas such as child care, mental health and counseling, gender-specific health care, employment and housing.  

The Easter Seals report recommends the single most effective way to do this is to invest in community solutions where local organizations coordinate and connect female veterans to locally-based reintegration services and supports. The organization provides a recommended community best practice model with five core components:

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·        Veteran-centered approach to focus on the unique and evolving needs of each female veteran;

·        Care coordination to holistically address reintegration through a coordinated team approach;

·        Community connection to link female veterans to other key federal and local supports within their communities;

·        Emergency financial assistance to meet unexpected, temporary financial barriers to successful reintegration; and,

·        Ongoing preventative and follow along supports to recognize that reintegration challenges can surface throughout a female veteran’s lifetime.

The federal government has added new programs and services to increase access to these critical services for female vets. But for myriad reasons, this cohort lacks knowledge of or has a difficult time accessing these critical supports when they need them most.  

I am asking federal policymakers to take action to rapidly expand community-based reintegration efforts to meet the transition needs of one of the fastest-growing and most underserved segments of the veteran population.  

First, Congress must authorize and fund federal care coordination programs for female veterans. This goes beyond its support of existing federal programs that utilize the community care coordination model; it asks Congress to focus on new programs for female veterans via community grants. Additionally, within the current federal programs, funds must be earmarked to address the unique reintegration challenges female veterans face. 

I served in the Navy for nearly two decades so my community, neighbors and family could enjoy America’s freedom. As a veteran, I returned home to my community, my neighbors and my family. Their support made the difference in my transition success. That same support should be afforded to the thousands of female vets who needlessly struggle. It’s time for policymakers to step up and end that dichotomy once and for all. 

Mitchell is a former lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy and the co-founder of Easter Seals Dixon Center, a philanthropic organization that enables veterans to succeed where they live.