Recognizing women veterans every day

Wednesday was Women Veterans Recognition Day in Michigan, as declared by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in recognition of the nearly 44,000 living women veterans in the state as well as the many more who served before them.

While there’s nothing wrong with setting a day aside for women veterans, the governor rightly noted that serving the women who served, who have been historically overlooked, needs to be a continuous effort.

“Michigan women have been stepping up to serve our country for generations, and it’s time they get the respect and recognition they earned … we’ve also got to make sure our women veterans have the year-round support they need when they return home, like access to quality, affordable health care, mental health services and housing,” Whitmer said. “When Michigan women make the brave decision to put their lives on the line to protect us, it’s our responsibility to make sure they can build a good life for themselves when they return.”

The Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency recently launched “She Is a Veteran,” a three-year campaign to recognize women veterans for their service, help them tell their stories and ultimately connect them to the benefits and services they earned.

“Through ‘She Is a Veteran,’ we can help these patriots get the appropriate resources and support they need,” said Erika Hoover, a Navy veteran and Women Veteran Initiative Coordinator for the MVAA.

The nation has 2 million women veterans, making up nearly 10 percent of the total veteran population. While the number of veterans overall is decreasing, driven by the decline in male veterans, the number of women veterans is steadily increasing.

In Michigan, women veterans will continue making up a bigger part of the overall veteran population. While women veterans made up just 7 percent of the state’s veteran population in 2015, that ratio will more than double by 2045, when women veterans will account for 16 percent of the veteran population.

Yet women veterans are facing numerous unique challenges, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Among them:

— When screened for military sexual trauma, 1 in 4 women veterans responded “yes.”

— More than 40 percent of women veterans in the VA system have been diagnosed with a mental health condition.

— A higher percentage of women veterans have a service-connected disability and live in poverty than male veterans.

— Women veterans are two to four times more likely to become homeless than non-women veterans.

— The suicide rate of women veterans is 1.8 times higher than that of non-veteran women.

Despite these challenges, women veterans have become four-star generals, commanded ships, earned medals of honor and run major components of the VA. As women become a bigger part of the veteran population, advocates say there must be continued efforts to remember, recognize and support their service.

Michigan women veterans interested in telling their stories for the “She Is a Veteran” campaign are invited to complete the online form https://www.michiganveterans.com/servlet/servlet.FileDownload?file=00Pt000000EmMDvEAN&sfdcIFrameOrigin=null. Or for more information, contact Erika Hoover at HooverE2@michigan.gov.

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