WASHINGTON – Even after 11 years of war where female troops have handled unprecedented battlefield responsibilities, many women leaving the service still don’t see themselves as “veterans,” according to the Department of Veterans Affairs top female vet.
While men are generally open about their service, many women are reserved about sharing that information or resistant to seeing themselves in the same category, said Retired Brig. Gen. Allison Hickey, VA’s undersecretary for benefits.
“We don’t know if it’s because they had different roles, because they felt like they didn’t do the same thing as some of our male veterans,” she said. “But whatever it is, they are still not self-identifying.”
That’s a problem, Hickey said, because it makes outreach to those female veterans more difficult. Women who don’t think of themselves as veterans don’t seek out veterans health care services, benefits or peer assistance programs.
“They have to tell us who they are,” she said, “so we can surround them with the support they need.”
Hickey’s remarks came at a Thursday event designed to highlight heart disease prevention among female veterans. Earlier this year, VA officials partnered with the American Heart Association in an effort to spread information about heart disease, the number one killer of both female veterans and American women nationwide.
Hickey said VA health officials have seen progress in informing women veterans about the threat and the simple lifestyle changes that can prevent heart problems. But, she noted, that only covers women who are already engaged with VA programs, not those who still see themselves as outside the veterans system.
Currently, the 1.8 million female veterans in America make up about 8 percent of the total veteran population. Over the next decade, that percentage is expected to rise to almost 12 percent.