State Policies for Women Veterans

3/26/2019

Women Veterans

Female soldier with aircraft in the backgroundWomen have served their country through all periods of U.S. history, whether disguised as male soldiers during the American Revolution, as nurses in World War II, or as helicopter pilots in Afghanistan. Yet too often, the contributions of women in uniform have been overlooked, even by the women themselves.

The challenges of transitioning from military to civilian life affect women differently than men, and many states and communities are exploring ways to help this small, but growing population of returning servicemembers. 

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. 

History of Women in the Military 

During the Revolutionary War, many women served informally as seamstresses, water bearers, nurses and cooks. Others fought alongside their husbands or operated as spies for the cause. When the Civil War began in 1861, thousands of women volunteered as nurses and hundreds more dressed as young men and boys to fight on the battlefield. Despite widespread participation, women did not serve formally in the military until Congress established the Army Nurse Corps in 1901. 

Women veterans giving a salute.Female presence in the military increased exponentially during World War II. More than 350,000 American women served in uniform, both at home and abroad, volunteering for the newly formed Women’s Army Corps, the Women Airforce Service Pilots and other units. They drove trucks, repaired airplanes, operated radios, analyzed intelligence and much more. Approximately 543 military women died in the line of duty and 84 others were held as prisoners of war.

In 1948, the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act granted women permanent status in the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy. With the exception of nurses, women could not previously serve in the regular and reserve forces during peacetime. Though the law was viewed as a step forward for women in the military, it also imposed a 2 percent cap on female enlistment and limited opportunities for advancement. Women remained a small minority of the Armed Forces population until 1967 when the gender cap was lifted. Several laws passed in the 1970s and early 1980s also broadened opportunities for female servicemembers and granted women “veteran” status for the first time. Legislation enacted in 1975, for example, allowed women to enroll at U.S. military academies.

Today's Military Women

Women today make up around 20 percent of new recruits, 15 percent of active duty military and 18 percent of the guard and reserve forces. Women serve in every branch and hold officer positions. Of the more than 280,000 women sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, 44 percent of enlisted and 13 percent of officers have been deployed two or more times. 

Female soldiers marching.Although women have long served in combat zones, often under fire, they could not hold official combat positions. This changed on Dec. 3, 2015, when Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced that the Pentagon would open all combat jobs (about 220,000) to women with no exceptions. Still, the secretary stressed that every servicemember would have to meet the standards of the jobs they wished to fill.

Just as the number of women in uniform has been growing, so too has the number of veterans. Of the almost 19 million veterans in the U.S. today, 8.4 percent are women. Women are the fastest growing group of veterans treated by the V.A. (double the number before 9/11) and projections show they will make up 20 percent of the total veteran population in the next 30 years.

The District of Columbia (14%), Virginia (13.6%) and Alaska (13.3%) have the highest percent of veterans who are women. Texas, California, Florida, Virginia and Georgia have the highest total number of female veterans, in that order.

Veteran vs. Non-Veteran Women Female vs. Male Veterans
Female veterans tend to be older. Female veterans tend to be younger.
More female veterans are black, fewer are Hispanic. Female veterans are more racially and ethnically diverse.
Female veterans are more likely to be married and less likely to be divorced. Female veterans are more likely to be divorced and less likely to be married.
Female veterans are less likely to be living in poverty. Female veterans tend to be worse off economically.
Female veterans have higher levels of education. Female veterans have higher levels of education.
More female veterans work full-time. Female veterans are more likely to be employed.

 

Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Profile of Veterans: 2016 

 

Unique Challenges

Female soldier  holding little boy with American Flag.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.

Employment

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.

Housing

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.

Health

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.

Female soldier working at a computer.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 Action

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.

States With Laws Related to Female Veterans

US map showing states with women veteran state laws.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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
State Citation Summary
Alaska 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.”
Arizona 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.
California Cal. Military and Veterans Code §79.1 Creates the position of deputy secretary of women veteran’s affairs.
California 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.
California 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
California 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.
Connecticut 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.
Connecticut 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.
Georgia 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.

District of Columbia D.C. Code §50-1501.02b

Directs the Mayor to design and issue vehicle identification tags honoring women veterans. 

Florida 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.
Georgia 2015 HR 550  Salutes and honors the Georgia's women veterans in the month of March, 2015, during Women's History Month.
Georgia 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.
Hawaii 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.
Illinois 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.
Illinois Ill. Rev. Stat. ch. 625, 5/3-693 Provides for female veteran license plates.
Indiana 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.
Kentucky 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.
Kentucky 2016 SB 128 Permits the Department of Veterans' Affairs to promulgate administrative regulations for the Women Veterans Program; provides for a coordinator.
Louisiana 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.
Maine 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.
Massachusetts Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 115, §2

Requires the commissioner of veterans' services to appoint an advisory committee on women veterans. 

Missouri Mo. Rev. Stat. §301.3172 Provides for female veteran license plates.
Nevada 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.
Nevada 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.
New Jersey 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.
New Jersey N.J. Rev. Stat. §36:2-32 Designates the month of May as Women Veterans Awareness Month.
New Mexico 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.
New York 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.
New York N.Y. Executive Law §168-a Designates June 12 of each year as Women Veterans Recognition Day.
North Dakota N.D. Cent. Code §1-03-15 Designates the month of March as Women Veterans Month.
Ohio Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §4503.581 Provides for female veteran license plates.
Oklahoma 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. 

Oregon 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.
Oregon 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.
Pennsylvania 2015 HR 486 Honors female veterans who heroically served our country as members of the United States Armed Forces.
Pennsylvania 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
Rhode Island 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.
South Dakota 2018 SB 97 Provides a special vehicle license plate for certain women veterans.
Tennessee Tenn. Code Ann. §55-4-267 Provides for a license plate labeled "Tennessee Woman Veteran."  
Texas 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.
Texas Tex. Government Code Ann. §662.065 Designates June 12 of each year as Women Veterans Day. 
Texas Tex. Transportation Code Ann. §504.318 Provides for female veteran license plates.
West Virginia W. Va. Code §17A-3-14 Provides for female veteran license plates issued to honorably discharged female veterans.
Puerto Rico P.R. Code §5243 Designates March 9 of each year as Women Veterans Day.
Puerto Rico 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.

 

 

 

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