The experiences of a female veteran

By Cozette Gordon 

There were approximately 22 million veterans living in the United States as of 2014, and only a little over 2 million of them are females, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

While the military is often a male-dominated culture, women are making their mark. Several PIN sources, and women whom I interviewed, shared their experiences of being female veterans.

Bettie Lerdall is a U.S. Marine Corps vet who served during World War II in 1945. She recalls a time when men and women were separated in the Marines, and she says her time in the military was one she really enjoyed. Today, Lerdall is involved with the Women Marines Association. When I asked her how the military has impacted her life, she quickly responded, “Discipline and commitment is the thing.”

PIN sources also shared proud memories about their time in the service in response to our query for women veterans.

Joanna Sweatt, U.S. Marine Corps, 1988-2007:

“I have had a voice–but only because of my current career/connections. Prior to having this position (3-years ago)–there didn’t seem to be many opportunities to tout my veteran status–to discuss female veteran issues and/or even leverage it for career opportunities.”

Mary Tanada, U.S. Marine Corps, 1964-1965:

“Times are so different. In the 60’s to the 80’s I never announced that I was a vet.  Since that time, I talk proudly of my time and people are always thanking me for my service.”

Times have definitely changed as some women are talking more openly about what they experienced as a female in the military. Some are dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, getting help to deal with sexual assault and finding employment after the military.

Randy Hade, a UMOM program coordinator of supportive services for veteran families, mentioned how women veterans actually face fewer challenges than men because their support system is better. Yet, they still face the same struggles of unemployment, mental health issues and homelessness according to a report from the Disabled American Veterans.

Sweatt gives her insight on how to improve health care for women veterans.

“Not have the Women’s center at the same facility as the VA hospital. It is not an environment that is safe/secure and it is very cold.”

Melanie Hockley is a U.S. Air Force veteran who doesn’t seek care or treatment from the VA but gives her insight on the coverage of gender harassment.

“While gender harassment (physically &/or verbally) is a very real thing in the military community, I believe after myself having personally experienced both these issues I do know, too, that once these things happen the best thing to do is not to put a huge focus on this but to assist that individual to move on to be part of the team, a recognized asset that is not broken and useless.”

Hockley goes on to express her gratitude for the positive experiences she’s gained in the military.

“What I would say is that working with those in the common causes and goals and functioning as a unit to achieve those goals was the best thing I’ve ever experienced.  Very few experiences in my civilian life have compared to the outstanding camaraderie I have felt while in service to my nation.”

Are you a female veteran? Share your story here.


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