Women veterans are missing out on the many benefits available to them, but Florida is taking important steps to remedy the situation.
According to information released by the Department of Veterans Affairs in October of 2015, the national population of women veterans now numbers 2,035,213 and is one of the fastest growing segments of the total population of veterans. At 154,321, Florida’s population of women veterans is the nation’s third largest.
The transition to civilian life from the military service poses difficulties for both genders, but women face a unique set of challenges.
The Challenges Women Veterans Face
Across the nation, women who served in the military are not getting the
acknowledgement and assistance they deserve. Many are not aware of the full scope of federal and state benefits for which they are eligible, and the fact that large numbers of them do not identify themselves as veterans further inhibits their access to and utilization of benefits and support resources.
Military Times’ June 2015 article about a women veterans study states: “The survey of women fellows in the group in April found that about two-thirds did not feel ‘respected and valued as veterans,’ because of a lack of respect of their service or assumptions they must be spouses instead of former service members. That feeling in turn hurt their sense of identity and ability to connect with others.”
The report further says that: “There are limited structured opportunities for women veterans to connect with others who can relate to their experiences and support them during their reintegration.”
Florida Works Hard to Support Women Veterans
While nationally, organizations dedicated to veterans’ causes are taking active steps to reach out to women veterans and improve their post-military transition, Florida is lending the task particular priority and focus—through outreach, compensation, rehabilitation, employment, health care and education initiatives.
The Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs (FDVA) has approximately 99 veteran claims examiners throughout the state, but one veterans claims examiner position has been created to specifically support women veterans through a variety of targeted efforts—from helping them file their claims to coordinating an annual conference that builds awareness of services and benefits. Cynthia T. Brown serves as the FDVA’s designated Women Veterans Coordinator and Air Force veteran Larri Gerson, an appointee to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, also does much to support female veterans.
Colleen Krepstekies, Legislative and Cabinet Affairs Director for the FDVA, a member of the National Guard and a public affairs officer for the Army with 11 years of prior active Army duty, says that the FDVA is continually striving to expand what they do to help women and keep pace with the ever-changing military service landscape.
“The fact that women are being admitted to all combat fields will enable them to bring unique leadership perspectives and new capabilities to the table,” says Krepstekies. “While this will open up fresh opportunities for them when they get out of the service and is generally a very positive thing, the women veterans may also face new challenges resulting from the changes—and these will be added to issues that distinguish them from their male counterparts, such as being primary caregivers for children.”
All across the country, organizations dedicated to veterans’ causes are taking steps to reach out to women veterans and improve their post-military transition, but Florida is lending particular priority and focus to the task.
Women Veterans Florida License Plates
To raise funds that can support women veterans while also shining a light on them, the Florida Legislature recently approved special-use license plates for which only women veterans are eligible. The plates will be available in early 2016 and the funds generated from their purchase will be utilized specifically for women veterans outreach.
Says Krepstekies: “We hope to get the word out about these plates so women veterans can purchase them, boost our outreach to them and help make our Annual Women Veterans’ Conference more robust.”
Florida Statewide Annual Women Veterans’ Conference
The goal of the outreach and this conference is to make women veterans aware of the resources available to them in Florida and urge them to sign up for them. Alene Tarter, director of benefits and assistance for the FDVA, has urged all women veterans to attend the free event—even those who have already signed up for benefits since they are constantly changing.
The Annual Women Veterans’ Conference launched two years ago. The associate director of the VA Center for Women Veterans of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs—Betty Moseley Brown—was the keynote speaker at the first event held in March on National Woman’s Day. The second one—a two-day event—was held in July, 2015 at the University of South Florida campus the ROTC Center.
The FDVA coordinates a host of entities at the conference, each of which supports women veterans in different ways and also presents workshops focused on employment, vocational training and other education opportunities. “When the information comes from women vets who have a focus on helping other women,” says Krepstekies, “the message is better designed to address the challenges that are top-of-mind for them.”
Women Veterans Outreach
The Florida Dept. of Veterans Affairs reaches out to women veterans through a vast network comprising county service officers in 66 counties, county vet centers and employment offices that are co-located with other veterans’ organizations and the federal VA. “We send out the message through both internal communications and social media,” says Krepstekies. “We already have a solid network of who we communicate with and we’re working on expanding that.”
Why Female Veterans Should Make Florida Their Home
Krepstekies summarizes the reasons Florida is so hospitable to women vets: “It’s rated the number one most veteran-friendly state in the nation; Governor Scott is incredibly supportive of veterans; several members of the Florida Dept. of Veterans Affairs senior staff are women veterans who bring a special understanding and passion to the mission of supporting their cohorts. The legislature is also very supportive of women veterans—and not all states can say that.”
Resources for Women Veterans
Florida Department of Veterans Affairs (FDVA)
U.S. Department Of Veterans Affairs: