Female Vets Lack Safe Place for Homecoming

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The return from military life is notoriously difficult, particularly for women suffering a delayed reaction to trauma and the aftermath of sexual assault. One transitional housing program offers a way forward.

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Female Vets Kim Tougas, Laurie Sarafin-Mcgrath,Tinamarie Polverari(WOMENSENEWS)--Tinamarie Polverari, a formerly homeless Army veteran, proudly calls Jackie K's House her home.

She and 11 other female veterans live in two white clapboard and brick cottages on the grounds of the Veteran's Administration hospital in Northampton, Mass.

Despite growing numbers of homeless female veterans, Jackie K's House is one of only two transitional housing programs for female veterans in the country, says Jack Downing, director of Soldier On, the nonprofit group that founded Jackie K's House in 2005.

Meanwhile,  the number of women enlisted in the U.S. military and reserves today continue to grow.

In some cases, these female soldiers--many serving in Iraq and Afghanistan--come closer to combat than previous generations.

And when they come home, the percentage who become homeless exceeds that of their male counterparts. About 131,000 veterans are homeless and about 22 percent between the ages of 18 and 34 are women.

These younger women, researchers say, bring greater vulnerabilities to their military service, including more likelihood of sexual assault, which correlates with high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

They also have lower incomes than men and many have children.

"Women are serving fully integrated in so many different ways, including in these wars," Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,  said in a recent interview. "We need to make sure that all of our care, all of our systems, all of the things that have been there a long time are able to change to support them."

'Hang in There'

The percentage of women serving in the military has been rising for years, yet the Veterans Administration, or VA, facilities remain primarily geared to men.

Mullen says improving a system created solely for the treatment of men will take time. His advice to homeless female veterans: "Hang in there."

At Soldier On, Downing explains why troubled female vets need more single-sex, long-stay facilities.

"We spend lots of time and money training people to be soldiers and we don't spend lots of time and money teaching them to come back and be civilians," he said. "They need to have almost a three-to-six month decompression period. Because we know that people who have talked to somebody before the crisis are nine times more likely to call when the crisis develops."

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