WASHINGTON — Women veterans will be at the forefront of the Disabled American Veterans agenda for the 2016 budget year, National Commander Ronald Hope said Tuesday.
In a joint session of Senate and House committees on Veterans Affairs, Hope listed the legislative goals of the 1.2 million member Disabled American Veterans for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.
With many women in military service today, Hope, a Vietnam War combat veteran, believes government is not doing enough to support female veterans and their gender-specific needs.
“This year’s focus in on family caregivers and women veterans,” said Hope. “Women lack consistent access to a full range of gender-sensitive benefits and services.”
Women make up 20 percent of new recruits to the Armed Forces, 14.5 percent of active duty members and 18 percent of reserve members, according to DAV. Hope said the number of women seeking veterans’ affairs care has doubled in the past decade.
“The VA system has been so dominated by men,” said Joy Ilem, deputy national legislation director of DAV. ”[Women] have been a minority in the system.”
A 2014 report by the Disabled American Veterans says women veterans need specific support and services to help with the transition out of the armed services. And they’re not getting the assistance they need, according to DAV.
Some women feel the Veteran Affairs agency culture is unwelcoming and gender-biased, a Department of Veterans Affairs task force has found.
When coming to Veteran Affairs centers Ilem said she was sometimes perceived not as vet herself, but assumed to be the wife or mother of a male veteran.
In addition, research by the task force shows women veterans are having a harder time integrating back into civil society than men. Women have higher rates of unemployment and homelessness and also face a lack of safe housing options.
Disabled American Veterans says every Veteran Affairs medical center should have at least one gynecologist, gender-sensitive mental health programs, transition assistance programs and child care services.
Many improvements have been made in the sphere of female veterans’ services, but the system as a whole still hasn’t caught up.
“Women [in the past] were more in the back, in supportive services, but the way our wars are fought today, women are definitely front and center,” said Ilem.