Women who have served in the U.S. military are often referred to as “invisible Veterans” because their service contributions until the 1970s went largely unrecognized by politicians, the media, academia, and the general public. The situation for women improved somewhat after World War I and again after World War II. It was not until well after World War II, however, that women who served in the military began to officially be recognized as Veterans.
Since the tragic events of September 11, 2001 the U.S. military has been involved in the Persian Gulf War, Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) in Afghanistan and Iraq. Women Servicemembers have greatly contributed to these conflicts, representing more than 11 percent of the forces that have been deployed in support of these operations. These operations brought one of the first opportunities for women to regularly deploy and engage in combat situations with their male counterparts. Despite the extent of support provided by women in OEF/OIF, combat exclusions remained a contested topic in the political arena and in the general public. According to the Congressional Research Service, approximately 299,548 female service members were deployed for contingency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan between September 2001 and February 2013, over 800 women have been wounded, and over 130 women have died. Women serve in every branch of the military, representing 15.5 percent of active duty military and 19.0 percent of National Guard and Reserve forces in 2015.
The total Veteran population in 2015 was over 21 million. About 9.8 percent of the overall Veteran population (2.1 million of 21.4 million), were women Veterans. In that same year, $66.38 billion dollars was awarded to Veterans for their service-connected disabilities. That translates to approximately $6.5 billion in paid disability compensation benefits for female Veterans in 2015 alone. Women comprise 17.9 percent of the Post-9/11 only period of service (533,050 of 2,985,460). Women are now the fastest growing cohort within the Veteran community. Most women Veterans possess those traits that are valued in military service: steady nerves, sound judgment, courage, tenacity, patriotism, and sacrifice. Women bring strong attributes to the workforce.
The sudden growth in the number of female Veterans is also increasing the number of women Veterans in need of service-connected disability compensation. As was the case with too many of our Nation’s male Veterans from past generational military periods, the sudden escalation in the number of female Veterans and nuances to a seemingly already strained system, is producing a large percentage of women Veterans unacquainted with the “Veterans Administration (VA) process.” This spike in women Veterans is likely due to such factors as the increasing number of women serving in the military (about 18,000 annually), and VA outreach and initiatives targeted toward women Veterans. Responses from women Veterans in the 2010 National Survey of Veterans (NSV) indicated that the top three reasons for having never filed for VA benefits were:
- Questions of Eligibility
- Unfamiliarity with the application process.
- Inconvenience of VA facility locations.
With that in mind, it is likely that the percentage of women Veterans seeking VA benefits is slightly higher than the reported 41 percent that actually filed a claim. The increasing number of female Veterans is generating more enrollment in post-active military health care, and raising the number of women Veterans filing for disability compensation.
So whether you served two years or thirty, as a member (or former member) of the Armed Forces of the United States, you are entitled to compensation for injury or illness incurred or aggravated in the service of your country. Veteran’s Disability Law is an extremely complex area of law and having someone in your corner to support and represent you may be something to consider.
On December 3, 2015, in a historic transformation of the American military, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said that the Pentagon would open all combat jobs to women. “There will be no exceptions,” Mr. Carter said in a news conference. He added, “They’ll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars and lead infantry soldiers into combat. They’ll be able to serve as Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Marine Corps infantry, Air Force parajumpers and everything else that was previously open only to men.” That decision opened about 220,000 additional military jobs to women. Generations of women who fought against a traditionally male-dominated institution and paved the way for today’s military women to have the privilege of serving their country, not as women, but as Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Air men/personnel, and Coast Guard smen/personnel.