Solution Series: Women Veterans Transitioning to Civilian Life

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On March 27 Fedcap held its 15th Solution Series, Women Veterans Transitioning to Civilian Life. The overflow crowd included business partners, and representatives from academia, community and government organizations. Hundreds more, from across the country and overseas, joined the event via livestream. 

In opening remarks, Fedcap President and CEO Christine McMahon said that “through this dialogue today, we believe that we can contribute to the day when all women veterans transition successfully to civilian life, by finding the support, employment, respect and happiness they deserve.” Ms. McMahon thanked event sponsors Mutual of America and Carr/Xerox and the many business partners in the room including Allied, Ocean Janitorial, LDI Toolbox, JP Morgan Chase, TD Bank, Spectrum, and Steinway Moving and Storage. She also noted the many government agencies that were represented in the room – Department of Veterans Services, Veterans’ Mental Health Coalition, HRA, OMH, DYCD, the Mayor’s Office, the Department for the Aging.

Lorrie Lutz, Fedcap’s Chief Strategy Officer, introduced the panelists – US Navy Veteran (Second Class Petty Officer, Ret.) Kim Elvin, currently Director of Workforce Development/Vocational Services for Easterseals New York; Dr. Cameron Ritchie, Colonel, US Army (Ret.), now Chief of Community Based Outpatients Clinics for the Washington, DC VA, and Adria Horn, Lieutenant Colonel, US Army Reserves, currently Director, Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services.

The panelists spoke of the challenges women veterans face in transition. Dr. Ritchie said that transition is an ongoing process – there is no clean break from service to civilian life. Ms. Horn said that despite holding an MBA and being a West Point graduate, she applied for 30 jobs after her discharge without getting a single call. Ms. Elvin said that the male-dominated culture of the VA leads many women to avoid the agency and the services it provides. It took her 30 years to register and become eligible for services.

The panel addressed the high rates of sexual assault in the military, and of suicide and homelessness among female veterans. One in four women in the military is sexually assaulted, and women veterans are the fastest growing segment of the homeless veteran population. Sexual assault and other traumas associated with service contribute to homelessness, unemployment, suicide and untreated mental illness.

To combat homelessness and improve mental health care, women veterans must be made aware of the services, supports and benefits that are available to them, through the VA and elsewhere. They should be encouraged to advocate for themselves; to call on personal networks for support, and to register with the VA.

Each of the panelists offered a key takeaway. Ms. Elvin said that communities must be prepared to welcome transitioning veterans. Dr. Ritchie encouraged employers to support women veterans with child care, flexible hours and other policies, and Ms. Horn said that to effectively support women veterans, they must first identify them among job applicants and staff.

In closing remarks, Lisa Russell, a ten-year Army veteran, reminded the audience that the Solution Series is only the beginning of the conversation about female veterans. The Fedcap family of agencies will continue its multifaceted work in serving the female veteran population, and advocating for their well-being.