To some degree the increase can be explained by the simple fact that more women are among the growing ranks of veterans in this country after two recent wars and counting. But increased numbers of women in the military cant alone account for the fact that the population of female veterans without permanent shelter has more than doubled in the last six years, a trend many expect to continue as the war in Iraq ends.
Female veterans make up about 8 percent of all veterans, or about 1.8 million, compared to just 4 percent in 1990. The number of homeless female veterans has more than doubled from 1,380 to 3,328 between fiscal year 2006 and fiscal year 2010, according to a December U.S. Government Accountability Office report that found many with young children and nearly two-thirds between ages 40 and 59.
Female veterans also face some unique challenges according to advocates. Many have suffered sexual assault and remain too traumatized to share common space with men. Many are single mothers struggling to find housing for themselves and their children. They’re also more likely to be jobless: Unemployment for female veterans who’ve served since September 2001 was 12.4 percent last year, slightly higher than for their male counterparts.
Despite these findings this country continues to inadequately treat these veterans’ needs. A new report from the VA inspector general examining veteran housing that receive VA grants found bedrooms and bathrooms without locks, poorly lit hallways and women housed in facilities approved for men only. Nearly a third of the 26 facilities reviewed didn’t have adequate safety precautions. One female veteran and her 18-month-old son were placed in the same facility as a male veteran who was a registered sex offender.
Of course, there are ways to address these problems. Adequately funding veterans programs and our social safety net in general would go a long way to helping our women returning to civilian life transition safely and effectively. So would making sure women have access to safe, affordable health care and jobs that pay at least as much as their male peers.
It really is that simple. The last thing these women need is to return home only to realize they have to fight yet another war–this time one waged against women.
Photo from expertinfantry via flickr.