March 7, 2013

Home of the Free & Brave? Why Are so Many Female Veterans on the Street? ~ Karla Rodas

“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” ~ Robert Frost

As the ban has been lifted on female soldiers in combat roles, they put on their uniforms and head out to fulfill their duties alongside their fellow soldiers. After all of their sacrifice and service, they come home with a unique set of challenges, leading some down a painful path of substance abuse and homelessness. 

According to a recent article in the New York Times:

“Of 141,000 veterans nationwide who spent at least one night in a shelter in 2011, nearly 10 percent were women, according to the latest figures available from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, up from 7.5 percent in 2009. In part it is a reflection of the changing nature of the American military, where women now constitute 14 percent of active-duty forces and 18 percent of the Army National Guard and the Reserves.”

They face the stark reality of homelessness and at the same time, bear fresh battle scars.

Some return with the added scars of  MST, military sexual trauma, which has been reported to trigger PTSD.

“For those hoping to better their lives, being sexually assaulted while serving their country is ‘a double betrayal of trust,’ said Lori S. Katz, director of the Women’s Health Clinic at the  V.A. Long Beach Healthcare System and co-founder of Renew, an innovative treatment program for female veterans with M.S.T. Reverberations from such experiences often set off a downward spiral for women into alcohol and substance abuse, depression and domestic violence, she added.”

Unresolved feelings bubble up to the surface and many turn to alcohol and drug abuse. Substance abuse and mental illness have been the main reasons for homelessness among veterans, male or female. The added psychological effects of sexual trauma while serving their country puts them at further risk for homelessness.

In addition to the invisible wounds of war, these servicewomen are struggling to find work and a place to lay their heads. There are more female single parents among veterans—adding to the stress and responsibility falling on their shoulders. Although there are resources for single homeless females, there are very few that provide housing for single mothers and their children. 

In order to address the specific needs of the changing face of our homeless veteran population, the VA Veteran’s Affairs has begun to add services for female vets.

From the official Veteran’s Affairs website:

“VA Mental Health for Women Veterans—VA recognizes that women Veterans experience their military service in different ways than men and also deal with unique mental health conditions. Because of this, VA provides specialized services to help women work through conditions such as PTSD or Military Sexual Trauma.”

There’s still much more to do to ensure that our brave women come home to a place to kick off their boots and begin their journey to healing. Support needs to rise up in order to address the specific needs of these heroines. Programs such as Renew, a collaboration with the V.A.’s Long Beach center, provides female veterans who have been screened for military sexual trauma  a safe place to recover. They use psychotherapy, journal writing and yoga as forms of treatment and are striving to keep these soldiers at ease and off the streets.

Read more here.


Karla Rodas has a passion for life and serving others. Her intention is to serve others with love, patience and compassion. Inspiring, educating, and leading others in the sacred tradition of yoga is one of her true callings. Through yoga and writing, her greatest hope is to help others heal and tap into their own inner beauty, strength and limitless potential. Karla is currently an apprentice editor and contributing writer at www.elephantjournal.com. Karla lives in San Diego with her beloved husband Frank and two teenage sons. You can reach Karla through her site www.yogaconkarla.com



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Ed: Brianna Bemel

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