BY JENNIFER FERRIS Every year we pause on November 11 to remember the brave men and women who protect our country and our freedom. Military service is a noble choice, and increasingly for North Carolina women, it’s a choice that comes at a great cost.
Right now the Tar Heel State is home to more than 16,000 female active duty military members — one of the highest concentrations in any state. These women are officers, enlisted, and reservists, and serve anywhere from the front lines to the Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg. And although they spend years, and even decades, honing their skills, when they leave the forces many face joblessness and financial ruin.
In North Carolina more than 14.8% of the state’s 70,000 female veterans report being without a job. That number is more than double the 6.2% unemployment rate among male vets, and 6% higher than the national rate of women veterans seeking jobs. Although unemployment in North Carolina has decreased slightly in recent months, the outlook for women who have served is not promising.
Recent cuts to the state’s unemployment insurance program mean everyone who is struggling financially is struggling even more now. Women veterans are among those who are being asked to get by on less. As we pause on this day to honor their service with speeches and ceremonies, it is a good time to examine how our deeds and decisions, our policies and budget cuts, affect them on the other 364 days of the year.
Some simply cannot find jobs, but more troubling is that many of these women aren’t healthy enough to work once they exit the military. According to a study by the Veteran’s Administration, nearly a quarter of female veterans are found to have mental health problems, and 31% have both mental and physical health conditions. These health problems range from combat wounds to post-traumatic stress disorder. More than one in five women are sexually assaulted during their time in the military, and many need significant medical services to regain normal activities.
Compound these medical problems with the practical challenges women face in a post-military life. More than a third of female veterans have asked for help with childcare, and 30,000 single mothers were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. As those women enter the civilian workforce as veterans they are finding a lack of resources to support their families.
It should come as no surprise that women veterans are homeless at a much higher rate than the rest of the population. In fact, even as homelessness has decreased, the population of female veterans without shelter has risen significantly. A woman who has served in the military is twice as likely to be homeless as a woman who has not.
So how can we support these brave women who have given so much for their country? The VA is increasing outreach and plans to coordinate services for women veterans. There are nonprofits—both national and local — that focus on connecting veterans with the services they need. While employers can help by hiring veterans, and nonprofits can assist with services, North Carolina lawmakers must not forget those who served.