The transition from military to civilian life varies for each female veteran just as it does for male veterans. Though many women reintegrate with ease, others may struggle either initially or months down the road. Challenges may be related to employment, housing, health and mental health, education and other factors.
A key component of a successful transition for both men and women is the ability to find a stable, satisfying job. While the unemployment rate for all veterans has been lower than that of non-veterans in recent years, unemployment for post-9/11 veterans has been persistently high. This trend is most pronounced in female veterans who faced a jobless rate of 12.5 percent in 2012. This was higher than the peak for all non-veterans (9.4 percent in 2010) and male veterans (12.0 percent in 2011). In 2017, the veteran unemployment rate was 3.7 percent for all veterans, lower than the general population. But at 4.5 percent, unemployment for post-9/11 veterans remains higher, and highest among female veterans at 5.5 percent.
Veterans often experience long delays in obtaining civilian employment even when they have transferable skills gained through military education, training and experience. For many veterans, the search for civilian employment marks the first time they have prepared a resume or participated in an interview. This is particularly true for female veterans who, according to the 2015 Veteran Talent Index, may not feel as confident as their male counterparts in their skills and ability to find a job. Other factors such as marital status, education level, motherhood and health problems may also play a role.
Female veterans are the fastest growing segment of the homeless veteran population. While the exact number of homeless female veterans is unknown, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires an annual count of homeless people in communities across the country known as the Point-in-Time Count. On a single night in January 2018, volunteers identified roughly 40,000 homeless veterans. Of those, 9 percent were women. From 2016 to 2017, the number of homeless female veterans increased by seven percent, compared with one percent for their male counterparts.
Overall, female veterans are up to four times more likely to become homeless than women who are not veterans. Five experiences have been identified as pathways to homelessness among female veterans. These include childhood adversity; trauma or substance abuse in military service; post-military abuse and termination of relationships; post-military mental illness or medical issues; and unemployment. These factors, combined with a lack of social support and sense of isolation, can make it more difficult for women to readjust to civilian life.
Many of the women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan experienced unprecedented levels of combat exposure and returned with specific health care needs, such as traumatic brain injury, back pain, migraines, dizziness, respiratory conditions, gastrointestinal issues and other unexplained symptoms. Female veterans also report significant mental health challenges, including post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, suicide, substance abuse and sleep disorders.
More than 50 percent of women who served post-9/11 have utilized mental health services at VA facilities. The most commonly diagnosed condition is post-traumatic stress, effecting 20 out of 100 women. Some symptoms are more common in women than men. For example, women are more likely to feel jumpy, disconnected, depressed and anxious, while men may feel angry and turn to alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism.
Aside from post-traumatic stress, the staggering rate of suicide among female veterans is a major concern. Women in the military commit suicide at nearly six times the rate of other women, according to VA research covering 11 years of data. Rates of female veteran suicide rival those of male veterans, despite the fact that men are generally far more likely than women to take their own life. Suicide has been the second leading cause of death among U.S. servicemembers since 2010.
State legislatures across the country are recognizing the contributions of female veterans and developing programs to address their specific needs. At least 28 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have enacted legislation to establish a female veteran program, designate a commemorative day or month, or provide for special license plates. A number of other states are considering bills in the current legislative session. See the charts below for a citation and summary of each law.
At least 15 states—California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas—have established a female veteran program or division or named a female veterans coordinator to oversee state benefits and services.
The Indiana General Assembly enacted legislation in 2014 (Senate Bill 354) creating the Hoosier Women Veterans Program within the Department of Veterans Affairs. The program has multiple purposes including performing outreach to improve awareness of state and federal benefits; assessing the needs of female veterans; reviewing programs and other initiatives designed to meet these needs; and making recommendations to the director of veterans affairs. Visitors to the program’s website are encouraged to join a registry used to connect female veterans to various resources and benefits to which they are entitled. Indiana also has a full-time female veterans coordinator and has held a conference for female veterans every year since 2007.
At least 11 states—Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas— and D.C. offer a special license plate recognizing female veterans. Revenue generated from plate sales helps to fund veterans programs.
Another eight states—Alaska, California, Georgia, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas—and Puerto Rico have designated either a Women Veterans Day or Women Veterans Month.
State Statutes, Bills and Resolutions Related to Female Veterans
||Alaska Stat. §44.12.078
||Designates Nov. 9 of each year as Women Veterans Day to “commemorate the sacrifices endured and valor displayed by American women veterans and to recognize their increasing role in the military.”
||Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §28-2447
||Directs the department of transportation to issue female veteran license plates. A portion of each plate cost is added to the veterans’ donation fund for the benefit of female veterans, including providing shelter to homeless female veterans as grants.
||Cal. Military and Veterans Code §79.1
||Creates the position of deputy secretary of women veteran’s affairs.
|Cal. Government Code §8245
||Creates the Commission on the Status of Women and Girls, one purpose of which is to study women in the military, female veterans and military families.
|2015 ACR 33
||Proclaims June 12, 2015, as Women Veteran's Day, urges citizens to join in celebrating the many contributions of women to our military forces
|2016 ACR 108
||Designates the week of March 14, 2016, to March 20, 2016, as Women's Military History Week. Recognizes the contributions of women to our military and our freedom and the historic lifting of the ban on women in combat.
||Conn. Gen. Stat. §27-100g
||Establishes the Connecticut Women Veterans Program to (1) conduct outreach to women veterans for the purpose of improving awareness of eligibility for federal and state veterans' benefits and services; (2) conduct assessments of the needs of female veterans with respect to benefits and services; (3) review programs and other initiatives designed to address the needs of female veterans; (4) submit recommendations for improving benefits and services available to female veterans; and (5) incorporate female veterans' issues in strategic planning concerning benefits and services.
|2016 SB 205
||Continues building awareness of female veterans' issues and address their unique needs by expanding opportunities for outreach and support by the Department of Veterans' Affairs.
|District of Columbia
||D.C. Code §50-1501.02b
Directs the Mayor to design and issue vehicle identification tags honoring women veterans.
||Fla. Stat. §320.089
||Provides for female veteran license plates. Revenue generated from plate sales is used solely for creating and implementing programs to benefit female veterans.
||2015 HR 550
||Salutes and honors the Georgia's women veterans in the month of March, 2015, during Women's History Month.
|2016 HR 736
||Creates a woman veteran's license plate, a military medal award recipient license plate, and a license plate to commemorate service with the United States armed forces during active military combat.
|Ga. Code §38-4-13
Creates a women veterans office within the Department of Veterans Services. The office must conduct outreach to women veterans for purposes of improving awareness of eligibility for federal and state benefits and services, conduct assessments of the specific needs of women veterans, and review programs and other initiatives designed to address the needs of women veterans in the state. The office must also work with veterans court divisions to recruit and train women veterans to serve as mentors.
||2016 HB 2489 / HB 3113
||Appropriates funds to be expended by the Department of Defense for the establishment of a veteran’s services counselor position within the Office of Veterans' Services to assist all veterans, with a primary focus on female veterans.
||Ill. Rev. Stat. ch. 20, §2805/1.2
||Creates the Division of Women Veterans Affairs within the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Division assesses the needs of female veterans with respect to issues of compensation, rehabilitation, outreach, health care, etc.
|Ill. Rev. Stat. ch. 625, 5/3-693
||Provides for female veteran license plates.
||Ind. Code §§10-17-14-1 et seq.
||Establishes the Hoosier Women Veterans Program to perform outreach to improve female veterans’ awareness of eligibility for veterans’ services and benefits, and review and make recommendations to improve services for female veterans.
||Ky. Rev. Stat. §40.600
||Establishes the Kentucky Women Veterans Program with a mission to ensure that Kentucky female veterans have equitable access to federal and state veterans' services and benefits. The primary components of the program are advocacy, collaboration, research, education, recognition and facilities.
|2016 SB 128
||Permits the Department of Veterans' Affairs to promulgate administrative regulations for the Women Veterans Program; provides for a coordinator.
||2016 SR 119
||Commends Louisiana's women veterans for their distinguished service in the United States Armed Forces; recognizes their vital role in protecting the rights and freedoms of Americans; and expresses enduring appreciation for the dedication, contributions, and sacrifices to our country and the great pride women veterans bring to the state of Louisiana.
||Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 37-B, §508
||Requires the bureau of veterans’ services to have at least one veteran service officer who specializes in female veterans issues.
||Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 115, §2
Requires the commissioner of veterans' services to appoint an advisory committee on women veterans.
||Mo. Rev. Stat. §301.3172
||Provides for female veteran license plates.
||Nev. Rev. Stat. AB 241, §§5.3 et seq.
||Creates the Women Veterans Advisory Committee to (1) locate, educate and advocate for female veterans in the state; (2) determine the unique needs of female veterans; and (3) educate female veterans about the benefits and programs available to them.
|Nev. Rev. Stat. §482.3763
||Provides for the issuance of special license plates to veterans, female veterans, and the spouse, parent or child of a veteran. Fees from the sale of license plates support outreach programs and services for veterans and their families.
||N.J. Rev. Stat. §§38A:3-38
||Creates a 15-member Commission on Women Veterans to assess the needs of female veterans and the benefits and programs provided to meet those needs. The commission will review reports and studies pertaining to programs and activities that affect female veterans, and provide recommendations for administrative and legislative actions.
|N.J. Rev. Stat. §36:2-32
||Designates the month of May as Women Veterans Awareness Month.
||N.M. Stat. Ann. §66-3-424.20
||Provides for a license plate labeled “Women Veterans Serve Proudly.” A portion of each plate fee is transferred to the armed forces veterans’ license fund.
||N.Y. Executive Law §361-b
||Creates the position of Women Veterans Coordinator, whose duties include: (1) management of existing state programs for female veterans and recommendations for improvements; (2) liaison between various state and federal veterans’ organizations/agencies; (3) development of a clearinghouse for information and resources for female veterans; and (4) promotion of events that recognize female veterans.
|N.Y. Executive Law §168-a
||Designates June 12 of each year as Women Veterans Recognition Day.
||N.D. Cent. Code §1-03-15
||Designates the month of March as Women Veterans Month.
||Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §4503.581
||Provides for female veteran license plates.
||Okla. Stat. tit. 72, §422
Creates the Oklahoma Women Veterans Program within the Department of Veterans Affairs. The mission of the program is to ensure that women veterans have equitable access to federal and state benefits and services. The law requires designation of a women veterans coordinator.
||Or. Rev. Stat. §406.075
||Creates the position of Women Veterans Coordinator. Responsibilities include: (1) outreach and assistance to female veterans regarding benefits and services; (2) assistance in applying for state and federal veterans benefits and appealing denials; and (3) developing informational materials for female veterans.
|2015 HB 2539
||Requires a statewide study regarding the delivery and use of, and barriers to access to, health care and medical services for female veterans.
||2015 HR 486
||Honors female veterans who heroically served our country as members of the United States Armed Forces.
|2016 SR 305
||Designates March 30, 2016, as Female Veterans Recognition Day; encourages all citizens to join in recognizing, appreciating and saluting the service and sacrifices of more than 71,000 female veterans who live in Pennsylvania
||2016 HB 8282
||Creates a special five member legislative commission to study and recommend the design and placement of a plaque to honor all Rhode Island women who are veterans of the United States Armed Forces.
||2018 SB 97
||Provides a special vehicle license plate for certain women veterans.
||Tenn. Code Ann. §55-4-267
||Provides for a license plate labeled "Tennessee Woman Veteran."
||Tex. Government Code Ann. §§434.201 et seq.
||Establishes the Texas Women Veterans Program with a mission to ensure that female veterans have equitable access to federal and state veterans’ benefits and services. Number of program duties.
|Tex. Government Code Ann. §662.065
||Designates June 12 of each year as Women Veterans Day.
|Tex. Transportation Code Ann. §504.318
||Provides for female veteran license plates.
||W. Va. Code §17A-3-14
||Provides for female veteran license plates issued to honorably discharged female veterans.
||P.R. Code §5243
||Designates March 9 of each year as Women Veterans Day.
|2015 SR 329
||Orders the Senate Committees on Women's Affairs to conduct research on women in the military and veterans in Puerto Rico to ensure fair treatment to receive benefits, the recognition of their work and health services they need.