When I left the military, I thought I had to give up part of who I was. In a way, I did, but I also didn't realize the importance and value of being a veteran. I thought that leaving the service was closing a chapter and simply starting the next thing - which at the time happened to be my new role as a mom and military spouse. I didn't see my role of being a veteran carrying any weight. Of course, I knew I was a veteran from my six years of active-duty service, but I didn't feel welcome enough in the veteran space to even find out what it meant to serve in that role.
Our focus often goes to our new roles. You raise your hand or stand up at various events or ceremonies thanking you for your service, and that is what you think being a veteran is. But being a veteran is not something you were; it is a part of who you are. And for a long time, you can miss out on the community that you are searching for, not knowing what you are looking for. It can feel like you gave up everything about who you were, and somehow because you are no longer in the military, your story and voice don't matter.
But you are wrong. Not only does your voice matter, but it is also needed. Just like in the male-dominated military, your unique perspective as a woman and as a veteran is important for solving problems, making changes and leaving a legacy. That hasn't changed because you took your uniform off.
Your story does matter, and you can make a difference for other veterans if you take the first step of getting involved. In the past five years, we have started to see a change in the veteran space. More women veterans are stepping up and using their voice as a powerful tool to not only bring to light the struggles women veterans face but bringing more females into the veteran community and helping to bring change.
These are a handful of the leading organizations making change for women veterans.
Women's Veterans Interactive
Women's Veterans Interactive (WVI), created by Ginger Miller, addresses the unique and often unrecognized challenges facing our nation's two million women veterans as they return to civilian life. WVI focuses on meeting women veterans at their point of need while breaking down barriers leading to homelessness. WVI holds an annual conference focused on Leadership and Diversity in which they bring together women veterans with a wide variety of speakers and topics. The conference ends with an awards dinner recognizing women veterans for the work they do.
Service Women's Action Network
Service Women's Action Network (SWAN) is the voice of all military women. They are committed to seeing that all servicewomen receive the opportunities, protections, benefits and respect they deserve. SWAN has three areas to guide them: support, connect and advocate. Support through a network of vetted resources, connect by bringing together military women and organizations across the country to amplify the voices of servicewomen and advocate for women by building a national reputation as a force behind the policy change.
Women in Military Service for America Memorial
Women in Military Service for America Memorial is the only major national memorial honoring all women who have defended America throughout history through exhibits, memorabilia and a cataloged history of the record of over 200,000 women veterans.
Women Veterans Alliance
Women Veterans Alliance (WVA) has the vision to connect over 2 million female veterans for the purpose of sharing our gifts, talents, resources and experiences. Founder Melissa A. Washington is a Navy Veteran who saw a need to bring women veterans to equip, empower and encourage each other. Each year their "Unconference" focuses on one-on-ones, self-care, specialized breakouts and more.
Women of the Military Podcast & The Female Veterans Podcast
Women of the Military Podcast is a place of empowerment and sharing the stories of military women's past and present with the belief that all stories matter and need to be shared. The podcast allows women to share their stories, and it can bring healing and the ability to let go. So many military women never talk about their experience and feel so alone in their struggles. The podcast brings a dynamic range of stories and experiences to help women not feel so alone. And, if you are looking for more stories of military women, check out The Female Veterans Podcast.
These are just a handful of the many women veteran organizations that have been making an impact and bringing about change to the veteran space. But there is still more work to do. Women often get pulled so far away from the military community that they don't even realize these resources are available to them. Our voices matter.
I now see why organizations like the Veteran of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion were so popular after the previous wars ended. There is something about serving in the military that changes you and builds a bond with people who may not look like you or believe what you do, but they are still your brothers and sisters in arms.
And we need that community.
What are your favorite veteran organizations focused on helping women veterans?