Over the past century, our nation has witnessed major changes in the roles of women. In politics, women have advanced from not having the right to vote to waging a campaign to become our nation’s President. In Corporate America, those women that were once secretaries have gone on to become CEOs of multinational corporations. In our U.S. Military, women have gone from clerks and nurses to combat pilots and field generals. Roles once only reserved for men are now being done by the proud women who have served and continue to serve in our Armed Forces. As our military has changed and become more diverse, so has our country’s veteran population. Whether enlisted or not, women have always played a role in helping to shape and defend our nation since the revolutionary war.
In California there are 166,700 women veterans, the highest population of any state, many of whom have served in positions that were once reserved for men only. With the changing roles of women in our military, one can expect that the challenges women face would also change. More than ever we are seeing women suffer from post traumatic stress disorders, military sexual trauma and physical disabilities that are directly related to multiple deployments and serving in combat zones. Women who serve in today’s military are experiencing a social disconnect similar to their male counterparts. When returning from combat zones, some women veterans are having difficulty returning to their traditional roles of mothers, wives, daughters and sisters. This is why it is important that we as a country and state take the time to recognize not only the accomplishments of women in our military, but also acknowledge the challenges they face.
On October 7th and 8th, hundreds of women veterans will converge on Ontario to attend the 2011 CalVet Women Veterans Conference. This is an opportunity for women veterans and those in the veteran community to come together and address the issues that impact this demographic. Attendees will have the opportunity to receive help and benefit information from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Dozens of veteran service organizations and nonprofits will be on site to provide employment assistance and financial and stress management workshops. A panel of California Legislators will participate in an open forum to address the concerns of the women veterans in attendance. This conference will also feature the presentation of two CalVet Woman Veteran of the Year Awards, recognizing thededication of two women veterans selected by their peers for their outstanding service to our nation and the veterans community. There will even be a Military Women Veterans Panel: Telling Their Stories, composed of women veterans from all walks of life and war eras.
Like any other veteran, women veterans need access to education, employment, medical care and housing. What is different for women veterans is the path they have traveled to say they have served in the U.S. Military. Women veterans are truly the minority in our armed forces. Every position or assignment of prominence that women service members have achieved came in the face of opposition. Where women in our military fought for new opportunities, others tried to stop them by saying tradition or regularity was more important than progress.
This is why it is important that national dialogue take place about the status of women in our military and their lives after service. This conference will enhance existing efforts to create an increased awareness of the changing needs of women veterans as this population continues to grow.
Major Gen. (Ret) Peter J. Gravett is the Secretary, California Department of Veterans Affairs