(Photo courtesy of Dee Quaranta)

No one was focusing on women vets in Florida. Until now.

February 19, 2019 - 1:50 pm

By Antonieta Rico, Service Women's Action Network

It was while working for the state of Florida, the state with the third highest population of women veterans, that Deloris “Dee” Quaranta, a retired Air Force veteran, first noticed women veterans were not getting access to services they needed to thrive after their service. In fact, she noticed that the women veterans she encountered were struggling with civilian life, many unable to find a job. It was one such case that prompted her to eventually start her own organization to help women veterans in Florida.

While providing career counseling for a transitioning woman veteran, Quaranta realized the woman was unusually desperate to find any employment right away. When she asked her what was going on the woman confessed that she was living with a man who was hitting her: “I'm sleeping on the sofa and I need to get out of this situation," the woman veteran said.

Despite the high population of women veterans in Florida, Quaranta said that no one in the state was working specifically with the women veteran population.

(Photo courtesy of Dee Quaranta)

“Women veterans have some really unique needs and the communities we live in need to get a better grip and know what those needs are so they can better serve us. Most (services) are geared for men,” Quaranta said.

In her work, Quaranta saw that a lot of the women veterans she worked with were dealing with domestic violence, mental wellness problems, military sexual trauma, and homelessness. She searched around her area to see if anyone had started or could start a women-veteran specific program, but when she couldn’t find any programs, she started her own organization in 2012, Northeast Florida Women Veterans.

"Since nobody wanted to do it, I'm going to do it," Quaranta said to herself. 

Northeast Florida Women Veterans offers services such as providing nonperishable and personal hygiene items to homeless women veterans, connecting women veterans to resources for professional development, and direct services with case management. Their signature program is HerTOTALWellness, a 6-week program that aims to empower women veterans by addressing their needs holistically, including giving workshops on financial management, nutrition and stress management and offering VA claims help as well as group counseling, yoga, and a weekend retreat.

Quaranta is determined to help women veterans access services and benefits. “Women veterans are veterans,” she said, “We still served alongside men, we should still be getting the same services." She said that she has to tell the women veterans she helps that "You matter, and you have a right to be taken care of."

(Photo courtesy of Dee Quaranta)

But her fight to help women veterans has not been easy. Quaranta is a breast cancer survivor ("I wasn't gonna stop just because I had breast cancer,” she said) and has also struggled to find funding for her organization after the initial grant that allowed her to start serving women veterans ended. When Hurricane Matthew hit Florida in late 2016, she had to replace her roof, and then her house was flooded by Hurricane Irma in 2017. Since then she has struggled to even pay her mortgage.

“I’m not sure how I'm going to make it. I just take it one day at a time. This is for the women,” she said.

But despite her own personal struggles, she continues to serve women veterans, working without salary and with a dedicated volunteer staff. In 2018 her organization saw 102 women veterans and was able to help all of them. Next month, Northeast Florida Women Veterans is gearing up for the 2019 Women Veterans Recognition Week in Jacksonville, Fla., kicking off with a Women of The Wall Memorial Service at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Wall on March 10 and ending with the HerTOTALWellness Conference March 14-16, 2019, which includes a Women Veterans Recognition Gala. To volunteer or make donations visit Northeast Florida Women Veterans here.

In collaboration with the Service Women’s Action Network, we are featuring an inspiring woman veteran each month.