By Zaneta Adams
Saying a veteran is a veteran is akin to saying that all lives matter, right? All lives do matter regardless of race, just like all who honorably served in the military are veterans (for the purposes of this conversation), regardless of gender.
So, are all people treated equally regardless of race? No. Are all veterans treated the same regardless of gender? No.
Women, since the first time they put on a uniform, have had to rise to exceptional levels just to be viewed as equal to their male counterparts and unfortunately, we still aren’t there.
When I was in basic training at Fort Jackson, SC in 1998, I was told by the male soldiers that I wasn’t strong enough, fit enough, or worthy enough to serve. Many of them believed that the place of a woman should only be beneath a man or cooking beside one.
And not much has changed since then, unfortunately. Just like my other sister veterans, I have to put my thick skin on to go into the VA to receive health care because I know that either the staff will assume my husband is the veteran, or the old men in the VA will make some type of comments about my waist or my face, or my body.
So why don’t female veterans self- identify? Maybe it’s because they feel shame about their service. Many women with whom I have chatted over the last four years during WINC For All Women Veterans peer support sessions, have stated that they don’t feel proud of their service because they were either raped while in the military, sexually harassed while in the military, mistreated because they were female, or cast away after being injured.
Many others have stated that people do not believe they are veterans based on their looks or mannerisms and they have grown exhausted having to explain their service every time it is relevant. Those encounters plus the many others that female veterans endure are like a slap in the face.
It seems easier to deny one’s service than to constantly have to justify one’s service.
Remaining silent however, does not change the VA Hospital mentality regarding keeping tampons and pads on hand for female veteran patients. Speaking out changes that mentality. Remaining silent does not change the culture within the VA in assuming that a female in the VA is a spouse. Speaking out changes that mentality. Remaining silent does not change the mentality of veteran service organizations like the American Legion, DAV, and Vietnam Veterans when they automatically assume a woman attempting to join should be an auxiliary member. Speaking out changes that mentality.
If the over two million strong women in America who served in the military do not speak up and shout out loud and clear that “we served too!,” then the perception that women do not serve in the military will remain the same.
And we will never be the change that we so hope to see.
Zaneta Adams is a practicing attorney and an eight-year veteran of the military; she was injured while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. She is president and founder of Women Injured iN Combat (WINC) For All Women Veterans, and was instrumental in forming the Veterans Legal Assistance project. Among her interests Adams currently assists veterans with compensation and pension appeals.