by Gary Officer, Rebuilding Together
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What comes to mind when you think of veterans?
What comes to mind when you think of a struggling head of the household, hardly able to afford basic home maintenance?
Despite our preconceived notions of the typical veteran, or the struggling homeowner, there is a burgeoning segment of the population that is perhaps still unfamiliar to many, but is in need of our help. This is the female veteran.
In the next 20 years, it is projected that women will make up 15 percent of all living veterans. This forecast averages a substantial growth of 11,000 female veterans a year over the next twenty years. And their contributions are great: over half of female enlisted and officer service members have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq since September 11.
Simply put, the female veteran is an important subset of the American fabric.
Yet, one can conclude that our female veteran population is not a conventional concept in the minds of many Americans. Although their percentages are modest compared to the scope of veteran numbers, their contributions are large.
The Department of Veterans Affairs recently released a new study, “America’s Women Veterans” which highlights the critical socioeconomic and demographic characteristics of this population, as well as their use of various health services and benefits.
One of the most telling facts to come from this study was that 39 percent of all women Veterans under the age of 65 have children ages 17 years or younger living at home. This means that a large percentage of this population has a household with dependents, and a home that requires upkeep and maintenance in order to be deemed a safe and healthy home for a family.
Heroes at Home is a program launched by Sears Holdings and Rebuilding Together to address the critical housing needs of our military and their families. For five years, we have been responsible for rebuilding 1,200 veterans’ homes, impacting the lives of countless families and individuals.
Through our work with Heroes at Home, we have seen the tragic conditions that many of our nation’s veterans, both male and female, have endured upon their return home. Oftentimes they have sustained critical injuries and life-altering conditions during their service period. Not only must they find ways to care for themselves, but they also must care for their family.
Ms. Williams is one such female veteran, age 46, who served in the US Marine Corps. She is a widower of six children, five of which are still under the age of 18. She suffers from an incurable disease and is unable to continue serving her country. She struggled to support her family on a fixed, minimal income, while also tending to her disease, and it left her house in substandard living conditions.
Heroes at Home provided renovations and modifications free of charge, to create a safe and healthy home environment. These modifications accommodated her needs, and those of her children, so that her experience with warfare was only a memory, not an everyday reality.
Ms. Williams is a snapshot into the situation many female veterans now face upon their return home. Not only have they served our country, but they are mothers, homeowners, and bear great responsibilities unknown to many.
If we stick to the presumed perception of a typical veteran, we are unintentionally diverting our attention towards a segment of the veteran population who, in many cases, require a particular set of needs. According to the America’s Women Veterans report, “Women who have served in the US military are often referred to as ‘invisible veterans’ because their service contributions until 1970 went largely unrecognized by society—even after women were granted Veterans status, there is still a history with issues to access, exclusion, and improper management of health care.”
Both the services required by women Veterans and the issues they face after their return to civilian life are different than those of their male counterparts, but the end goal is the same.
A safe and healthy home is an elemental building block for the sustainability and health of our neighborhoods and communities. In order to provide safe and healthy homes for every person, we must recognize the diverse set of needs that many in this country have, including populaces that are of a growing nature.
No veteran should be invisible.
Gary Officer is President and CEO of Rebuilding Together, an NHC member and a leading nonprofit organization providing critical home repairs, modifications and improvements for America’s low-income homeowners. Rebuilding Together’s Veterans Housing was created to meet the growing needs of veterans from past and present wars.