Women veterans are more likely to die by suicide than women who did not serve in the military, and, in a 2011 survey (the most recent survey of this kind), 46 percent of women veterans in California reported a current mental health problem. Los Angeles County, meanwhile, is home to approximately 20,600 women veterans, the fourth-highest population of any U.S. county.
Women Vets on Point (WVoP) has one goal: to connect women veterans in Los Angeles County with compassionate mental health care delivered by providers who understand their experiences and needs.
WVoP is led by women veterans, including Kristine Stanley, who served in the Air Force for 24 years. She recalls that she struggled in her first year after leaving the military and didn't know where to turn for help.
"I want my fellow women veterans to know they are not alone," said Stanley, program coordinator for WVoP at U.S.VETS. "I know they may feel invisible or forgotten, or that no one realizes they've served. That all changes with Women Vets on Point. If they have ever put on a uniform, this program is for them."
At www.womenvetsonpoint.org, women veterans can:
- Connect with a WVoP team member. Team members listen to women's stories and help them find mental health care providers who have experience working with women veterans on challenges related to post-traumatic stress disorder, military sexual trauma, domestic violence, and more.
- Get referrals for services that can assist with legal, employment, housing, and child-care needs.
- Hear stories of hope and recovery from other women veterans.
- Locate tools and resources to help them better understand their symptoms.
U.S. Marines assigned to the female engagement team (FET) attached to Foxtrot Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment conduct a security patrol in Marjah, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Jan. 3, 2011. The FET aids the infantry Marines by engaging Afghan women and children in support of the International Security Assistance Force.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Marionne T. Mangrum)
In creating WVoP, U.S.VETS partnered with Education Development Center (EDC), a nonprofit that advances innovative solutions to improve education and promote health. EDC was selected because of its experience in using technology tools to facilitate effective mental health treatment.
"There are very few programs tailored specifically for women who served," said EDC project director, Erin Smith. "EDC's research enables us to recommend solutions for some of the challenges women veterans may face. The bottom line is that earlier access to treatment can mean higher quality of life. And we know how to help women engage with treatment in ways that work with all of the other responsibilities they are carrying."
U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Claire Ballante holds an Afghan child during a patrol with Marines from 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment in Musa Qa'leh, Afghanistan, Aug. 3, 2010. Ballante is part of a female engagement team that is patrolling local compounds to assess possible home damage caused by aircraft landing at Forward Operating Base Musa Qala.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Lindsay L. Sayres)
Many of the challenges faced by women veterans are distinct from those faced by male veterans or other women, and these challenges may be poorly understood by the public. According to Stanley, some people assume that women veterans can't have experienced trauma if they didn't serve in a traditional combat role. Another common misconception is that women veterans' challenges are related only to military sexual trauma.
"Women Vets on Point knows what misconceptions are out there," said Stanley. "And we know that the needs of women who served have not been sufficiently addressed. Women Vets on Point is going to make serious changes for women in this community and hopefully make the journeys of women veterans easier in the future."