Transitioning from Military to Civilian: The Unique Challenges of Female Veterans

All veterans returning home from long periods in service face a range of difficult challenges. From narrowing opportunities to trouble feeling a sense of belonging, female veterans face everything their male counterparts do…and more.

Military service is demanding, but returning to civilian life has its own unique brand of challenges. For female veterans, those challenges are compounded by the mere fact that they are female.

In what can only be described as culture shock, the return to “normalcy” for female veterans involves a lengthy transition process. One that is rarely without soul-wrenching frustration and disappointment. Here are some of the specific hurdles female veterans face, both in personal life and with the job market.

1. Female Veterans face Damaging Stereotypes

Stereotypes are perhaps the worst obstacle for female veterans, especially those seeking employment. For starters, when most people think of “veterans “, they think of men. Historically, for the most part, that’s been commonly true. But since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the ratio of female veterans has increased dramatically.

Yet, stereotypes persist, and women who served are often forgotten. That can lead to misunderstandings, both in social circles and in the workplace. People simply forget that women can be veterans, too.

Secondly, if people do remember that female veterans exist, they often envision negative stereotypes. One of those stereotypes is the scarred individual who can best be described as a walking time bomb. Try carrying that image along with you when you are job-hunting.

2. A VA That’s Geared Towards Male Veterans

The Census Bureau puts female veteran counts at 1.6 million out of a total of 18.8 million. That low female-to-male ratio may explain the heavy tilt of our nation’s VA system towards serving male veterans. Although it may explain, it certainly does not excuse.

Female veterans represent only 8.5% of all veterans, yet for the post- 9/11 Iraq and Afghanistan era, they represent 17.4% of all veterans . That’s a dramatic shift upwards in female veterans, and it’s straining the outdated VA system. From lack of research on female vets to lack of resources for them, the system needs changes.

3. A Civilian Population That Doesn’t Get Female Soldiers

Just as the typical image of a veteran is a man, the typical image of a soldier is also a man. Sometimes civilians just don’t get what women do in the military. Since many people’s notion of war, the service, and soldiers comes from the movies and television. They are often working with a very skewed version of reality when it comes to envisioning the female soldier. That’s partly because it’s hard to find prominent Hollywood roles that accurately portray female soldiers.

And even among older male veterans, there’s a lack of understanding in what female veterans do. Some mistakenly think they serve auxiliary roles, or sell Girl Scout Cookies!

4. Transition Programs are Also Geared Towards Men

Both in government and in the private sector, programs that were set up decades ago to help have become outdated. These include programs aimed at helping veterans transition into civilian life. That is because they were created during an era when there just were not that many female veterans.

Conclusion

These are certainly pressing challenges for women who have returned from service. We have not even mentioned the additional suffering they often experience in the form of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Military sexual trauma is a serious issue facing some veterans.

We can only hope the VA updates its programs and services. The public also needs to adjust its vision of what and who soldiers and veterans really are. The military can also play an important role in helping with the female veteran’s transition to civilian life.

For more information about women veterans visit our Women Veterans Support page and our Women Veteran Resources.