By Kelsey Duckett
U.S. Representative Karen Bass and California State Assembly Member Holly Mitchell recognized women veterans at a special event on Monday night, but acknowledged that California has a long way to go in caring for these vets when they come home.
Congresswoman Karen Bass and State Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell held a forum Monday night in Culver City to honor, recognize and listen to the needs of women veterans, who will be amongst the many vets seeking care for service injuries--specifically post-traumatic stress disorder--after the end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Many Americans responded to the call to serve after the horrific events of Sept. 11," she said. "And many of these Americans were women--some have paid the ultimate price, while others are returning home with no access to health care, counseling, employment or the care they need. This has to change."
California has 161,400 female veterans, which is 9.1 percent of the nation's female veteran population--more women serving in the military than other state. While the amount of women serving in the military has steadily rose, the dedication of funds to take care of these women when they return home has not increased, Bass said.
The national unemployment rate for post 9/11 female veterans was 14.7 percent in September, while the rate for male veterans was 11.1 percent. These unemployment statistics are expected to worsen after the 10,000 servicemen and servicewomen return from Afghanistan and 46,000 return home from Iraq by year's end--many who will be in need of serious care, whether they are physically disabled or suffering from mental trauma.
Bass told those in attendance that the issue of jobs needs to be moved to top priority for veterans returning home: "Everyone is looking for work in California, this is a state that already has high unemployment rates, we have do to something," she said. "As the troops come home, the unemployment situation will only worsen if we do not address the need. We have to fast forward some resources, we have to get counseling, housing, jobs, health care--this needs to be front and center on our agenda."
In fact, Bass was approached by several women veterans in attendance that reminded her "not to forget the women that will leave the forum to go sleep in their car or on the street."
On any given night, women veterans make up 5 percent of the nation's 107,000 homeless veterans. And California as a state has more homeless women veterans than any other state in the country, Bass said.
It was this comment from Bass, and stories from two women in the audience that prompted Culver City Mayor Micheal O'Leary to vow get on the phone with the City Manager John Nachbar and take immediate action: "I am shocked and horrified by what I am hearing here tonight," O'Leary said. "It disturbs me that our country has the money to send our children to war, but doesn't have the money to bring them back and take care of them." He also announced to the audience that women veterans are encouraged to go to Culver City Hall for assistance.
"We will provide you with a phone and a place to sit down," he said. "We will work with you until you have a place to go and get on your feet. We will provide these services for a week or more if necessary."
Mitchell echoed Bass' concern for women veterans, and said something has to be done and fast to help these women get back into the community they left to fight for the freedoms Americans enjoy everyday.
"We are hearing horrifying stories of women who have lost custody of their children because their service in Iraq or Afghanistan was extended," she said. "We will not tolerate this. This is a top priority, and an extremely important issue and we will support our women veterans."
Mitchell acknowledged her and Bass' frustration in hosting a meeting where they wouldn't be able to provide immediate answers or in most cases assistance, but said the forum was necessary in taking steps in the right direction.
"There is nothing we can hand you today, and that is difficult for us," she told the audience. "But this is a meaningful step and this is our way of showing our commitment, these are well deserved issues. These are our top priorities."
Private First Class Bee Abrams Cohen, who is 101 and is the longest surviving female veteran in the United States, gave a key statement on the state of veteran affairs on Monday night. Her message to the representatives was clear--it's time for action.
"I remember when John F. Kennedy said "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,'" she said. "But now it is time that the country finally did something for our veterans. The time is now. The veterans returning home, and the veterans already home need the assistance they deserve."