Female veterans don’t feel at home
Say appreciation for roles lacking
WASHINGTON - Nobody wants to buy them a beer.
Even near military bases, female veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t often offered a drink on the house as a welcome home.
More than 230,000 American women have fought in those recent wars and at least 120 have died doing so, yet the public still doesn’t completely understand their contributions on the modern battlefield. For some, it’s a lonely transition as they struggle to find their place.
Aimee Sherrod, an Air Force veteran who did three war tours, said years went by when she didn’t tell people she was a veteran. After facing sexual harassment during two tours and mortar attacks in Iraq, the 29-year-old mother of two from Bells, Tenn., was medically discharged in 2005 with post-traumatic stress disorder.
She is haunted by nightmares and wakes up some nights thinking she’s under attack. She’s moody as a result of post-traumatic stress and can’t function enough to work or attend college. Like some other veterans, she felt she improperly received a low disability rating by the Department of Veterans Affairs that left her with a token monthly payment. She was frustrated that her paperwork mentioned she was pregnant, a factor she thought was irrelevant.
“I just gave up on it and I didn’t tell anyone about ever being in the military because I was so ashamed over everything,’’ Sherrod said.
Then Jo Eason, a Nashville lawyer working pro bono through the Lawyers Serving Warriors program, stepped in a few years later and Sherrod began taking home a heftier monthly disability payment.
“I’ve never regretted my military service, I’m glad I did it,’’ Sherrod said. “I’m not ashamed of my service. I’m ashamed to try and tell people about it because it’s like, well, why’d you get out?’’
The Defense Department bars women from serving in assignments where the primary mission is to engage in direct ground combat. But the nature of the recent conflicts, with no clear front lines, puts women in the middle of the action, in roles such as military police officers, pilots, drivers, and gunners on convoys. In addition to the 120-plus deaths, more than 650 women have been wounded.
Back home, women face many of the same issues as the men, but the personal stakes may be greater. Female service members have much higher rates of divorce and are more likely to be a single parent. When they do seek help at VA medical centers, they are screening positive at a higher rate for military sexual trauma, meaning they indicated experiencing sexual harassment, assault, or rape. Some studies have shown that female veterans are at greater risk for homelessness.
Former Army Sergeant Kayla Williams, an Iraq veteran, wrote about her experience in a book titled, “Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the U.S. Army.’’ She said she was surprised by the response she and other women from the 101st Airborne Division received from people in Clarksville, Tenn., near Fort Campbell, Ky.
She said residents just assumed they were girlfriends or wives of military men.