Most people don’t immediately think of a woman when the image of a homeless veteran comes to mind. But according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, female veterans account for the fastest growing number of homeless veterans in the United States.
“A lot of times they don’t know where to go because even though we have all these different organizations and everything else, they’re afraid to just say, because a lot of times they feel they’re going to be thrown in a shelter, and who wants to be thrown in a shelter,” said Cheryl Turner, a veteran and president and founder of New Hope Village 4 Veterans, Inc.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development counted 40,000 homeless veterans on a single night in January last year. Of those, about 9 percent, or 3,600, identified themselves as female veterans.
The Department of Veteran Affairs says part of the reason why women don’t self-identify as veterans is because they’re confused about their status.
“They’re not identifying as a veteran maybe because they believe that in order to be classified as a veteran they had to have served either in combat or overseas, and that not the case,” said Department of Veterans Affairs Public Affairs Officer Jennifer Myers. “At least come to the VA to see what you’re eligible for and really confirm your status as a veteran.”
Myers’ words resonated with fellow service members who attended a Women Veteran’s workshop in Newark, where vendors provided help with employment, living arrangements and resources for survivors of sexual assault.
“You try to keep up with the guys, and you don’t want to seem weak and say this happened to me or this occurred, so a lot of times people do. They don’t say anything. They keep it to themselves and then later on down the line you have issues,” said Airforce veteran Rasheedah Mayes.
The VA says about 1 in 5 women have been victims of sexual assault.
“Be reminded that some women coming into this building have been, are dealing with military sexual trauma. They’re dealing with PTSD,” said Verna Martin, co-director of the Vets Chat & Chew Program.
Vets Chat & Chew is designed for veterans and active military and focuses on how food can change your mood.
“It allowed me to be around women that had experienced that same thing I had experienced,” Martin said.
There was one sentiment shared by most of the female veterans — when in uniform, they wish they were acknowledged for their service the same way men are.