(AMN) – Governor Gretchen Whitmer has proclaimed June 12 of this year Women Veterans Recognition Day, honoring Michigan’s more than 43,000 living women veterans and the many more who served before them. Women have played a critical role in defending the United States since the Revolutionary War and currently represent the fastest growing segment of the veteran population.
“Women veterans have proudly and selflessly served our nation for 250 years, and they deserve the proper recognition and support for heeding the call to duty,” said Governor Whitmer. “I’m honored to declare June 12 as Women Veterans Recognition Day. It’s a public reminder that we’ve got to continue to make sure our women veterans have year-round support when they return home, like access to quality, appropriate health care, mental health services and affordable housing. Michigan is tremendously proud to be home to those who’ve served.”
The proclamation comes as the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA) continues to focus on supporting women veterans as an underserved veteran population. This effort includes the agency’s influential She is A Veteran awareness campaign and its first-ever Women Veterans Conference June 10-11 in Lansing.
Whether disguising themselves as male soldiers in the American Revolution or serving as combat pilots in Afghanistan, women have been fighting for their country since its inception. But it wasn’t until the late 1970s and early 1980s that women were formally granted veteran status, opening doors for them to take advantage of the federal and state benefits they earned for their service.
Nationwide, there are about 2 million women veterans, representing 11% of the veteran population. That number is projected to increase to 2.2 million in 2046, when women veterans will represent 18% of the veteran population, while the number of male veterans falls sharply.
Zaneta Adams, director of the MVAA and a longtime veteran advocate, was instrumental in getting Michigan to first recognize Women Veterans Recognition Day in 2018. And while progress has been made to honor and serve women veterans, much more work is needed to fully support their needs, Adams said.
“Women Veterans Recognition Day is meant to raise awareness of the 43,000-plus Michigan women veterans who have served in the military while helping other women veterans come out of the shadows and proclaim their veteran status,” said Adams, an Army veteran. “Women veterans face many challenges – from dealing with military sexual trauma to inadequate health care to homelessness. Our hope is that the more we raise awareness, the better veteran-specific services will become for our women veterans.”
Erika Hoover, MVAA’s women veterans and special populations coordinator, noted that women veterans are two to four times more likely to become homeless than women who are not veterans. Further, the suicide rate of women veterans is 1.8 times higher than that of women non-veterans.
“By raising public awareness that women are veterans too, and by encouraging them to first identify as veterans and then to take advantage of available resources, we can better help our women veterans thrive in all facets of their lives,” said Hoover, a Navy veteran.
Jill Mathews of Muskegon Heights spent 32 years in the Army, rising to the rank of sergeant major. But Mathews would struggle with the transition to civilian life, feeling lost and becoming depressed.
She found her calling again by volunteering for other women veterans. Because of the roles she had in the military, Mathews can often see when another veteran is struggling and will do what she can to help. “Half the time you don’t have to do anything,” Mathews said. “You just have to say, ‘Hey I’m a veteran too and I see you. I see what you need and if you need me, call me.’ And that’s it. Just be there for them.”