By Gregg Fishman.
Not far from the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, there is a beautifully restored old building that houses the Los Angeles County Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. The Bob Hope Patriotic Hall is even named for a man known for his service to people in the military. But in Bob Hope’s day, the military was almost exclusively male. These days, more women are choosing military service and consequently, the number of female veterans is increasing.
Almost any vet will tell you the transition from military to civilian life isn’t easy. It’s hard to find a job, a place to live and to begin getting your life on track. It’s even harder if military service left you with a debilitating injury or emotional trauma from experiencing combat. The Veterans Administration (VA) can be difficult to navigate, so many counties have special offices to help veterans access all the benefits they deserve.
Now, there’s a reason somebody made a lot of money writing books about Mars and Venus. Men and women approach things differently, and Los Angeles County recognized that male and female veterans who may have some very similar needs, may also have some very different ones. And they approach the concept of “getting help” in different ways.
In addition to the typical issues veterans struggle with, female vets say they often feel “invisible” because even though their numbers are increasing, people still don’t expect women to be veterans. That’s why the Los Angeles County Department of Military and Veterans Affairs started a special program for women.
They hold monthly meetings where the women can share experiences and “be visible.” It’s the same camaraderie that many male veterans value—just expressed in a slightly different way. The all-female gatherings provide a safe place to talk about what they are going through now and the shared experiences of being in the military, including one experience that they face far more often than men.
Many victims of sexual assault in the military can’t talk about it until well after they are discharged. In a group setting with other female veterans, some of them discover they are not the only one facing that particular issue, and they find a safe place to open up. They also find the support and services they need to help them deal with it.
The Los Angeles County program is helping women vets get the benefits they deserve from the VA, and deal with the emotional changes that most veterans experience when they separate from the service. It’s also fostering camaraderie among women vets who have shared experiences, good and bad, from being in the military. The program is meeting the needs of its clients in a way that makes the services they offer much more effective. That’s something Bob Hope could smile about!