The female veterans who gathered in Thousand Oaks, CA survived the perils of military service and the trauma that can follow. But returning to civilian life turned out to be one of their strongest foes.
“Transition is the most difficult thing,” said Deon Watson, a former Navy Seabee who attended the discussion Wednesday at Rep. Julia Brownley’s office.
About a dozen female veterans and active-duty personnel pointed out the barriers. Included were job skills that don’t translate to the civilian world, stereotyping by employers and what they saw as an inadequate military program to prepare them for discharge.
They also said many female vets don’t know about the services that exist. One woman said she didn’t know about the educational benefits of the G.I. Bill until it was too late for her.
They got no argument from Brownley, a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. She said the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs needs to do a better job of communicating.
“The VA has been really bad at disseminating information,” she said.
This is the third meeting that Brownley, D-Westlake Village, has convened to discuss the needs of female veterans. She plans more sessions to provide a forum for them to discuss their concerns.
Women comprise 15 percent of the military and the number of female vets using the VA’s services has doubled over the last decade, Brownley said.
They also have some special needs, she said, reporting that one in five women using VA services has screened positive for sexual trauma.
This session was devoted mainly to employment.
A few women said the transition program the military offers needs to provide detailed information on career options, last longer and start well before discharge.
“It is way too late by the time they get the briefing,” said Amanda Smith, an Air Force veteran who works as a full-time recruiter in Ventura and Los Angeles counties.
Smith said in an interview that veterans face a huge adjustment when they re-enter civilian life. They’ve lost their jobs, their medical insurance and are facing high living costs, she said.
Tina Secrease, who was discharged from the Navy in 2005, found her experience as a hospital corpsman wasn’t of much use in the labor force.
She couldn’t take the test to become a licensed vocational nurse without going through a training program, she said. Nor could she get a job as a patient representative in a hospital. The Camarillo woman switched fields and is pursuing a college degree in communications.
Chaitra Hardison, a RAND Corp. scientist, told the group that many skills taught to military personnel are sought and needed by employers. Technical skills may not translate to the private sector, but leadership experience, the ability to work on a team and interpersonal skills do, she said.
Watson, the former Seabee, works with veterans at a career center at Oxnard College.
Some of them struggle with finding a safe place to sit in a classroom after years of military training in how to avoid attacks, she said. They may keep their eyes on the classroom door and stay in the back of the room.
“A lot of people are still in warrior mode,” she said.
Brownley said afterward that hearing from the women helped her know what she should do. Some issues may be resolved by legislation, others by talking to military officials with the ability to make changes, she said.
It is not just Ventura County women who are facing these issues, but female veterans around the nation, she said.
By Kathleen Wilson, Ventura County Star, Calif.
©2017 Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif., Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.