Sunday, September 13, 2009

Women Veterans in NM - some numbers

Yesterday I spent the day at a conference for women veterans, designed to provide information and resources for everyone from WWII WACs (and there were two of them there) to Viet Nam Vets to active duty OIF/OEF (Iraq/Afghanistan) personnel, and everyone in between. Not a veteran myself, but with a blossoming interest in a second career in veteran health, I went to learn. Here are some numbers I learned.

New Mexico has 200,000 veterans. Of these 16,000 are women. That's about 8%. Of all the veterans in NM, only about 40,000 have even applied for veterans services and benefits from the state. That means three out of five vets could be getting benefits they aren't getting. At the state level, these range from a free fishing license to scholarships and property tax breaks.

More women are currently in service. Of all American active duty, 15% are now women. The women vets I met and heard yesterday were all very proud of their service and deeply loyal to their country.

The presence of women in the military has brought to light a phenomenon termed MST, or Military Sexual Trauma. This is any kind of sexual harassment or assault experienced while in the military. The Veterans Administration now has a MST coordinator at every facility in the country. Every vet, male and female, who applies for services now gets asked if they experienced MST. They can answer "Yes," "No," or "I don't want to answer." In 2007, 25% of American women vets screened answered Yes.

Of course there was discussion of PTSD, and one speaker reviewed some of the alternate terms being considered for this. There's a move to get rid of the part that says "disorder" so as to reduce any perceived stigma. "Trauma Stress Injury" was my favorite of those mentioned.

There were more numbers, like Chapter 33, which is a GI bill specially for those who serve after 9/10/2001 in OIF/OEF. And 20%, which is how disabled you have to be to receive vocational rehab on the VA's penny. And 22, which is the number of days Shoshana Nyree, the first female American POW of the Iraq war, and our guest of honor, was held before the marines rescued her. (She has a book coming out soon titled Still Standing)

Numbers can be impressive. I know I was impressed with the number of services and benefits available to veterans. I believe they have earned it, and I hope it all helps. And I know that behind the numbers and the statistics are real live women and men, some damaged so badly that no matter what number of services they get they will never heal.

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