The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates there are 16,545 veterans in Connecticut who are women. Some among them struggle with issues such as unemployment, homelessness and mental illness, and many more are unaware of the support services available to them. That was the impetus for legislation approved this year by the General Assembly and recently signed into law by Gov. Malloy, requiring the Department of Veterans' Affairs to establish, within available resources, a Connecticut women veterans' program.
The new women’s veterans program must:
- reach out to women veterans to improve awareness of eligibility for federal and state veterans' benefits and services;
- assess women veterans' needs for benefits and services;
- review programs and research projects and other initiatives designed to address or meet Connecticut women veterans' needs; and
- incorporate women veterans' issues in strategic planning on benefits and services.
The program must also annually submit recommendations for improving benefits and services for women veterans to the veterans' affairs commissioner and the Veterans' Affairs Committee of the legislature, beginning January 15, 2016.
Under the law’s provisions, a “veteran” is anyone discharged or released (under conditions other than dishonorable) from active service in the armed forces - U. S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Air Force -and any reserve component of these branches, including the Connecticut National Guard operating under certain Homeland Security missions.
Jackie Evonison, the women veterans’ outreach coordinator with the American Legion Connecticut, told legislators considering the program that many female veterans are unaware of available services or don’t feel they’re qualified to receive them.
In 2012, there were more than 2,600 women veterans residing in Hartford County, according to data included in a report from the Aurora Foundation. Women veterans face substantial and unique challenges readjusting to civilian life, the report pointed out, especially in the areas of housing, mental health, health care, employment and homelessness:
- In Hartford County, approximately 8 percent of the population are veterans; females are 5 percent of this population (approximately 2,619 women vets in Hartford County).
- Female veterans are almost four times more likely to become homeless than women who have not served in the military.
- Only one of the three veterans’ housing facilities in the county house female veterans.
As a group, female veterans are younger than their male counterparts, with an average age of 48, compared to 63 for men. More than 80 percent of the female veterans are working age, compared to 55 percent for men, according to published reports.
Commissioner Sean Connolly of the state Department of Veterans Affairs said the mission of the program will be “to see what kinds of programs are out there, develop recommendations for improving benefits, and determining whether new programs and projects are necessary to meet the needs of our women veterans.”