Women in the Military, Female Veterans and Military Families


Women's Legislative Network LogoThe Women's Legislative Network of NCSL is committed to providing state legislators with relevant and accurate information about women serving in the military, female veterans, and the unique circumstances of military families. Browse content from past meetings below, and explore the links to NCSL resources, informative reports, media stories, and other websites.

We welcome your feedback about this page and about topics the Network should consider for future programming. Contact Katie Ziegler at (303) 364-7700.

State Policies for Women Veterans

This April 2016 NCSL brief includes a short history of women in the military, a look at the unique challenges women veterans face, and detailed information about state policies related to female veterans. Read the brief here.

Female soldierNews

'Housing First' is Helping Female Vets Stabilize. Women's ENews, 11/11/2015

Female Veterans Pose Homeless Challenge for the VA. Women's ENews, 4/1/2015

States Save Millions Helping Veterans Get Federal Aid. Governing, 1/24/13

The Hawaii Women's Legislative Caucus dedicates its 2012 legislative package to women veterans and disabled female veterans. More.
Hawaii Caucus Package.

States try to help veterans find jobs. Stateline.org, 2/7/2012

March is Texas Women Veterans Month: Women Veterans' Summit.

Are States, Cities Ready for a Wave of Veterans? Governing, 6/12/2012


Center for Women Veterans - United States Department of Veterans Affairs

Veterans' Employment and Training Services - United States Department of Labor

Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship - U.S. Small Business Administration

Homeless Women Veterans Listening Sessions Report - United States Department of Labor Women's Bureau
The Women’s Bureau, in order to develop projects and initiatives in direct response to the needs of its constituents, often utilizes community-based methods such as listening sessions to gather first-hand information. The Homeless Women Veterans Listening Sessions Report summarizes the information and viewpoints gathered from homeless women veterans and the service providers that assist them.

Military and Military Families - United States Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration
Supporting America’s service men and women—Active Duty, National Guard, Reserve, and Veteran—together with their families and communities by leading efforts to ensure that needed behavioral health services are accessible and that outcomes are positive.

Military HOMEFRONT - United States Department of Defense
MilitaryHOMEFRONT is the Department of Defense website for official Military Community and Family Policy (MC&FP) program information, policy and guidance designed to help troops and their families, leaders, and service providers. Whether you live the military lifestyle or support those who do, you'll find what you need.

Resources for Military Families - United States Department of Health and Human Services

Military Spouse Employment Partnership

Grace After Fire
Grace After Fire provides support for and helps women veterans of the United States military who are returning from active duty so that they can re-engage as mothers, wives and daughters in civilian life.

Joining Forces
Joining Forces is a comprehensive national initiative to mobilize all sectors of society to give our service members and their families the opportunities and support they have earned.

National Military Family Association
"The National Military Family Association is an organization with strong grassroots support balanced with professionalism that makes us a leader in the field. Not only do we support military families – we are military families. Spouses, parents, and family members make up our staff and board positions. We speak up on behalf of military families and empower husbands, wives, and children to understand and access their benefits. Based on what we hear from our members, we meet the needs of service members and their families with insightful recommendations, innovative programs, and grassroots efforts to better the quality of life for military families."

Veterans' Guide to Getting Hired - LearnHowToBecome.Org

The College Guide for Servicemembers and Veterans
From BestColleges.com. The purpose of this guide is to identify specific programs, based on a person's contribution to the U.S. Armed Forces, that will further his or her education. From there, we will also look at how to get the most out of those services.

A Financial Aid Guide for Veterans - MoneyGeek
A Veteran's Guide to Job Hunting in the Civilian World- MoneyGeek
As your discharge date approaches, there’s a lot to get your head around. Where do you want to live? How would you like to earn a living? What are your goals? For over half of military veterans, the answer involves some form of higher education. Fortunately, your status opens the way to many forms of financial aid and other resources uniquely available to veterans.

Sessions at NCSL Meetings

NCSL Legislative Summit
August 3, 2015

Seattle, Washington

States Support Female Veterans
With the Task Force on Military and Veterans' Affairs

This session examined how states are addressing the unique needs of female veterans regarding education, employment and reintegration.

Read the recently-released report from Easter Seals about community supports for female veterans.

Speaker: Col. David W. Sutherland (U.S. Army Ret.), Chairman and Co-Founder, Easter Seals Dixon Center for Military and Veterans Services, Washington, D.C.

Kimberly Mitchell (Former U.S. Navy), President and Co-Founder, Easter Seals Dixon Center for Military and Veterans Services


NCSL Fall Forum 2013
December 4, 2013
Washington, D.C.

State Services for Veterans

NCSL Task Force on Military & Veterans' Affairs

This session highlighted initiatives to award education credit to veterans and provide homeless female veterans housing, counseling and other services. 

Patricia Gaston, Henderson House, New Mexico. Presentation. NCSL blog post.
Johnelle Welch, Texas College Credit for Heroes Program. Presentation.

HendersonHouseMore than 7,000 of the nation’s 1.8 million female veterans are homeless, four times the rate of civilian women. Furthermore, female veterans have higher rates of unemployment than their civilian counterparts.

Those needs of female veterans were among the topics during a Fall Forum session devoted to state services for veterans co-sponsored by NCSL’s Military and Veterans’ Affairs Task Force and the Women’s Legislative Network.

Lt. Col. Patricia Gaston (U.S. Army Ret.) discussed some of the multiple and nuanced reasons for the disparities between female veterans and civilians. One of the major factors is that female veterans have significant histories of trauma. More than half of the female veterans who responded to a recent survey said that they had experienced trauma or abuse prior to joining the military. The Department of Defense reports that one-in-three military women have experienced Military Sexual Trauma (MST), which includes sexual assault and threatening sexual harassment. These acts of trauma can cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a condition that is triggered by a terrifying event.

Symptoms of PTSD include severe anxiety, flashbacks, and nightmares, all of which can make it difficult for a woman to reintegrate into civilian society upon leaving the military. Survivors often have difficulty functioning from day to day, and experience high rates of depression and substance abuse. Gaston also noted that female veterans may not self-identify as veterans, and thus not take advantage of available resources, often because services and supports in their communities are tailored (and marketed) toward men.

Soldier with childIn 2011, a coalition of community organizations in Albuquerque, N.M., led by the YWCA, opened Henderson House, which provides a place to stay for up to 10 women and their children who would otherwise have been homeless. The facility, the first of its kind in the nation, allows residents to stay at the house for two years, during which time they receive comprehensive services including counseling, education and job placement and training, and budgeting and financial planning. Gaston reported that one of the most important benefits for the women in the program is sharing their stories with the other residents and learning that they are not alone in their struggles. The sense of community that Henderson House provides is invaluable when the women transition out of the program to self-sufficiency.

The state of New Mexico has implemented a number of benefits and programs for its military population, including a disabled veteran property tax exemption; granting in-state tuition for veterans and their families; defining National Guard and Reserves members as veterans (those who served six years or more); and offering specific female veterans license plates. These programs and others are detailed on the New Mexico Department of Veterans’ Services website.


NCSL Legislative Summit 2012
August 6-9, 2012
Chicago, Illinois

Women's Legislative Network Lunch and Business Meeting: Women in the Military
Following the business meeting was a panel presentation about women in the military and female veterans from Illinois experts.

Erica Borggren identified three issues unique to female veterans:

  1. They often don’t self-identify as veterans. (They may self-ID as “having served in uniform” but feel the word “veteran” doesn’t fit them). Providers don’t see women at VA events at the same rates as men. She recommends that providers and legislators consider the “imaging” when advertising events for veterans. Be sure the environment is welcoming to women.
  2. Military sexual trauma – women experience this at much higher rates than men. It is now recognized as a valid cause of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), just as valid as having been in combat.
  3. Many female veterans are caregivers. They may not be able to access veterans’ services because of child care issues. Female veterans who become homeless have a need for family shelters.

The Illinois Dept. of Veterans’ Affairs started their women veterans program with a survey to discover the population’s needs. They are hosting a conference in the fall about military sexual trauma.
Director Borggren offered several ideas for the audience. Consider whether VA centers in your state have women-specific veterans’ service officers. Consider creating a women-only honor guard. Take care to consider the “imaging” when advertising events for veterans in your community. Also consider offering child care at all veterans events.

Valerie Creedon noted that since the year 2000, the number of female veterans has doubled. Women are the fastest-growing segment of the veteran population. Twenty percent of newly-enlisting servicemembers are women. Only a small percentage of female veterans are accessing services, however. She noted that the VA is making an effort to increase the number of women veteran-specific service providers at medical centers around the country.
Dr. Kinna Patel noted that many VA medical sites don’t offer maternity care themselves, but they have agreements negotiated with community providers. She agreed that a big problem is that women are not accessing services available to them. Common reasons that female veterans access medical care include chronic pain, osteoporosis, maternity care, menopause, and sexual trauma. Providers are seeing more women accessing care for infertility treatments.
Jenny Garretson said that many VA centers have peer counseling and support groups. Some locations have women-specific breakout sessions, but this doesn’t exist everywhere yet. Some sites also have women-only addiction and substance abuse support groups. She noted that providers recognize the importance of screening women to learn whether they experienced military sexual trauma, as women often don’t want to disclose this right away.
Gaps that still exist in services for female veterans include assistance with transitioning to civilian life, counseling to support personal relationships, and employment assistance.
The panelists noted that there are many, many service providers and navigating the systems could be overwhelming for some people. They suggested that providers work together to be more coherent and collaborative. The state has launched Illinois Joining Forces, a website that will include referrals to all services available to veterans in one place.


l-r Jenny Garretson, Kinna Patel, Valerie Creedon, Erica Borggren

NCSL Fall Forum 2011
November 30-December 2
Tampa, Florida

Employment Support for Military Families
NCSL Labor and Economic Development Committee, Women's Legislative Network

When members of the military receive orders to transfer from one state to another, they often have spouses and children who make the move with them. Many military families depend on the non-enlisted spouse’s income, and cross-country moves can be disruptive. This session highlighted state actions to support military spousal employment and Department of Defense resources for military families.

Moderator: Representative Brent Yonts, Kentucky

Panelists: Representative Gayle B. Harrell, Florida

Ed Kringer, State Liaison & Educational Opportunity, U.S. Department of Defense, Virginia. PowerPoint presentation. (11-pages PDF file)

Katie Savant, National Military Family Association, Virginia. PowerPoint presentation. (14-pages PDF file)

National Military Family Association

National Military Family Association Community Toolkit

NCSL information about unemployment compensation for military spouses.


NCSL Legislative Summit 2011
August 8-11
San Antonio, Texas

Network Luncheon: Women in the Military

Attendees heard keynote presentations about the Center for the Intrepid at Brooke Army Medical Center and Grace After Fire, an organization that supports female veterans.

Presiding: Representative Rosie Berger, Wyoming


Rebecca Hooper, Center For the Intrepid, Brooke Army Medical Center, Texas. The threefold mission of the Center is to provide rehabilitation for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom casualties who have sustained amputation, burns, or functional limb loss; to provide education to Department of Defense and Department of Veterans’ Affairs professionals on cutting edge rehabilitation modalities; and to promote research in the fields of Orthopedics, prosthetics and physical and occupational rehabilitation. Col. Hooper discussed the amazing technology the Center uses as part of its rehabilitation program for wounded warriors, and shared stories of some of the women who have benefitted from the Center's programs and gone on to achieve and exceed their goals.

Kimberly Olson, executive director, Grace After Fire. This Texas-based non-profit organization is dedicated to providing outreach to all women veterans and their families, offering confidential peer support and increased access to appropriate trauma, mental health, addiction, and community services. Col. Olson discussed some of the unique challenges female veterans face and why it is so important for women to have access to a peer support network.

Link to video shown as part of Kim Olson's presentation.


Preparing for Bringing Home the Troops

NCSL Task Force on Military and Veterans' Affairs

With the end of combat in Iraq and Operation Enduring Freedom, America's troops will continue to return home to installations, bases and communities that will feel the stress of growth and expansion. This session explored how various levels of government are preparing to meet the needs of returning members of the military, particularly those with physical and mental injuries.

Speakers: John Garcia, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington, D.C.

Lt. General Jack Stultz, Army Reserve, Washington, D.C.

Video recording of the session.

NCSL Spring Forum 2011
April 14-15
Washington, DC

Briefings and Tour of the Pentagon

Women's Legislative Network and the NCSL Military and Veterans' Affairs Task Force

State legislators received a tour of the Pentagon and met with Robert Gordon III, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Military Community and Family Policy. Mr. Gordon shared information about new and ongoing initiatives within the DOD, including a review of military children's educational status, the Spouse Education and Career Opportunities Program, military family life counselors, and the new White House Joining Forces program. Legislators also discussed initiatives in their states with Ed Kringer, the director of the State Liaison and Educational Opportunity offices.