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Group opens office to address growing needs of female veterans

It took time, but female veterans now have a place in the Augusta area where they can find emotional support and community aid exclusive to female service members.

After five years of meeting in members’ homes, the Women’s Veterans Club of the CSRA cut the ceremonial ribbon Wednesday to its first permanent office location – Suite J at 3062 Damascus Road.

The dedication marked a historical moment for Augusta’s female veterans, described by community leaders as an often invisible group that is now part of the fastest growing segment of the nation’s homeless population.

Even as the Pentagon lifts the ban on women in combat roles, nearly 10 percent of the 141,000 veterans who spent at least one night in a shelter in 2011 were women, according to the latest figures available from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. That’s up from 7.5 percent in 2009.

“Men have always had a voice in the veteran community,” Club Commander Watha Alston-Hooper said during the ceremony. “Now, women veterans have a voice, and a chance to show their colors and announce that we are here standing tall, prepared to take our place and serve our sisters in arms.”

While male veterans become homeless largely because of substance abuse and mental illness, national studies show females face those problems and more, including the search for family housing and an even harder time finding well-paying jobs.

In part, it is a reflection of the changing nature of the American military, where women now constitute 14 percent of active-duty forces and 18 percent of the Army National Guard and the Reserves, according to defense data.

It’s the same trend in Augusta.

The community’s women’s veterans group was founded in January 2009 by Garnet Brickey, a World War II veteran from Grovetown, with about 10 members. Since Brickey’s death in April 2010, membership has grown to 52 female veterans and more are expected to join, with phones ringing often following the club’s dedication by the Metro Augusta Chamber of Commerce.

Club members dressed in red Wednesday to signify their commitment to serving female veterans. The group works in collaboration with at least nine nonprofit organizations to provide female veterans services they need, such as jobs, education, food, shelter and affordable health care, to lead successful lives in the civilian world.

Club partners include the Augusta Warrior Project, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 649, Golden Harvest Food Bank, Fisher House Foundation, Fort Gordon Christmas House, Parkway Place, Homeless Stand

Down, Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center Women’s Domiciliary and Disabled Americans Veterans

Chapter 18.

“The emotional support is tremendous,” said Ann Hall, a 78-year-old Army veteran who cut the ceremonial ribbon as the club’s oldest member.

Hall, a former member of the 513th Military Intelligence Brigade who served in the Korean War, said the club helped her cope with her husband’s battle with lung cancer and eventual death in March.

She said the organization held a memorial ceremony for her spouse of 58 years, Billy Hall, inducted as an honorary member.

“The fellowship is strong,” she said. “We are all sister(s) here.”

Larry Jones, the board president of the Metro Chamber of Commerce, thanked the club for its continuous support of female veterans, wished it much success and said he hoped membership would soon outgrow their new location. The chamber provided the group a registry of its 1,100 members and ambassadors.

“When you think of veterans, many times you think of men. The women are overlooked and they shouldn’t be,” Jones said. “They’re the backbone of our country because in many ways, they come forward to serve in times of great need. This office speaks leaps and bounds of the courage they have, and the community has, to say they count as well. Today’s a very proud moment.”

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