'We don’t de-program you as well as we could,' senior women leaders on veteran transition

Kaylah Jackson
February 26, 2020 - 5:08 pm
Blue Star Families panel discuss survey findings on transition challenges for women service members

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When retired Brigadier General Carol Eggert joined the Army in 1972, the military was segregated by gender. As a then-new mom, she faced the decision of staying with her child to breastfeed or introducing it to formula because, in that era, maternity leave was only six weeks. Forty-eight years later, maternity leave for military moms is now three months, signaling change but room for progress.

This is just one of the stories recounted during a panel of senior female leaders who as part of the Blue Star Families annual survey, “Stronger Communities for a Stronger America,” discussed the challenges facing current military women and veterans. Eggert, now senior vice president of Military & Veteran Affairs, Comcast NBCUniversal, moderated the discussion. 

According to the survey, 54 percent of surveyed female service members are most concerned with the amount of time away from family and 48 percent are concerned with military facility stability, in comparison to 47 percent and 42 percent of male service members, respectively.

In regard to female veterans, 66 percent of the respondents called their transition “difficult or very difficult,” when compared to 51 percent of male veterans. The survey used these results to suggest women face a greater risk post-military including homelessness, mental health conditions and divorce.

Lieutenant Colonel Olivia Nunn, Director of Communications for the Soldier For Life Transition Assistance Program (SFL-TAP), suggested these challenges are in-part because while everyone wears the same uniform, women are juggling multiple identities.

“It’s the soldier hat, It’s the mom hat, it’s the friend hat … all the same challenges that our peers face when they're spouses, when they’re corporate America workers, when they’re nonprofit leaders, we face all of those issues in uniform,” said Nunn.

VA, Army, Navy and Marines will pilot women-specific transition program

According to a report, women make up approximately 16 percent of active duty, a population that’s now reflected in women becoming the fastest-growing group among all veterans.

And while, women use their G.I. Bill at a greater frequency then their male veteran counterparts and often come into the service with more secondary education, that doesn’t translate to similar success in other aspects of the veteran transition.

“When you come into the Marine Corps, when you come into the military, what we do is we transform you. We change your identity … and on the backend, we don’t de-program you as well as we could,” said Brigadier General Lorna Mahlock, Director, Command, Control, Communications, Computers and the Deputy Department for the Navy Chief information officer (CIO).

The conversation after the findings suggested further research to examine how risk factors for women affect them differently in their post-military transition.

“For most of us, especially the 17 percent of us that make it to retirement, this has been your identity for so long and for women, this uniform is closely tied to your worth,” said Nunn. "You take this away — 'What is my purpose? Who am I beyond this?'”

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