Majority of wounded female veterans feel isolated, believe their service isn’t respected, WWP poll finds

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 12, 2021

Most wounded female veterans feel isolated, lonely and believe they are not respected for their military service, according to a Wounded Warrior Project poll released Friday.

The survey of women registered with the nonprofit revealed some 80% of respondents showed indications of loneliness and often struggled to connect with their peers, including female and male veterans. That compared to about 63% of male wounded veterans who reported feelings of loneliness and isolation in separate WWP polling, said Tracy Farrell, the organization’s vice president of engagement and physical health and wellness.

Calling the statistics “voluminous and staggering,” Farrell said the survey provided data to back up anecdotal evidence that women struggled more than men to transition from military to civilian life. She said women who spoke with Wounded Warrior Project craved mentorship and networking opportunities with other women who served.

“Specifically, with people who knew their backgrounds, knew what they found in the service and who knew how those aspects and training that they received … could be translated into the civilian environment,” Farrell said. “Having some sisters-in-arms to share those resources, to point you in the right direction and to just acknowledge the stories from your past and understand where you’re coming from is really important.”

The new data is the product of nearly 5,000 respondents to the survey administered in early 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic. It is not meant to represent all female veterans, as it was sent only to those registered with Wounded Warrior Project, including those who suffered physical and mental injuries and other disabilities during their time in uniform.

The survey found wounded female veterans were more educated than their male counterparts, but also less likely to hold a full-time job, with only 34% of respondents reporting full-time employment. It also found those wounded female veterans with jobs earned about $8,000 less per year than wounded male veterans.

Some 53% of the women polled for the survey reported they did not believe their service was generally respected. Women gave differing reasons for that feeling, but some said in places such as Department of Veterans Affairs clinics, they often felt like second-class citizens to men.

One woman, for example, told the Wounded Warrior Project that when her nonveteran husband accompanied her to the VA, “they address him thinking he’s the veteran.”

“This is an area where we really think there’s room for improvement,” said Jennifer Silva, WWP’s chief program officer. “The environments within the VA facilities could be more welcoming and [make it] a little easier to access female-specific care.”

The military could also help improve the image of female veterans by including more women in their public-facing products, Farrell said.

“I think the images that are put forward to the media are often male-centric, so by including more women in some of those images … there will be an acknowledgement that women serve as well and have a vital part in defending the United States,” she said.

The survey results come amid an unprecedented public show of support in recent days for female troops launched by top Pentagon and military officials primarily via social media after a television host disparaged new steps that the military has recently taken for women. Fox News host Tucker Carlson said this week that changes – including newly approved hairstyle options and flight suits fitted for pregnant women -- made “a mockery of the U.S. military.”

Silva said the strong response from Pentagon leaders was a positive step.

“Senior officials … highlighting stories of women in their roles is really empowering and they feel a part of it,” she said. “And for the general population, that maybe can’t always see that in the service, that’s something very empowering, as well.”

The Wounded Warrior Project said it would use the data it collected in the survey to bolster and expand its programs geared toward its female veterans.

The major takeaway, Silva said, was the need for more programs aimed at connecting female veterans together, whether in person or virtually.

“We can't really overstate the need for that connection that we have,” she said. “They’re isolated and they are not feeling respected for their service. We need to connect them, because they find the value in that.”

Twitter: @CDicksteinDC