Female troops and veterans want the public to know their military service is much more than just discussion of sexual assault in the ranks, according to a new survey released Monday.
Almost three in four women in the new Service Women's Action Network survey said they do not believe their military service is understood or valued among the general public, and only 24 percent said they think military leadership does enough to publicize their work.
While 42 percent of women surveyed saw sexual harassment and assault as a common issue confronting the female servicemember community, far fewer listed it as a personal obstacle to their service.
Instead, 43 percent said their biggest military hurdle is assignments and job opportunities, 35 percent said family policies, and 36 percent said general gender bias problems.
And despite the perception of widespread problems for women serving in the military, 80 percent said they would recommend enlisting to other women.
"We were pleasantly surprised by that, because that is how most of us feel about our experiences," said Ellen Haring, director of the SWAN's Service Women's Institute. "Even if you had some bad experiences, for most of us the positives have outweighed that."
Group officials said they don’t want the results to minimize the problems with misogyny and sexual assault in the ranks. But they do hope the survey results help broaden public understanding of what female servicemembers have done while serving, and create a broader appreciation of their sarifices.
The survey drew responses from nearly 1,200 active-duty troops, reservists and veterans over the last 45 days.
When asked to rank the three most pressing issues facing women troops and veterans, access to women-specific health care in the Defense Department, access to women-specific health care in VA and access to mental health programs topped respondents’ list.
But when asked their own most pressing challenges, the women answered differently. About 35 percent still said access to mental health care was of top importance, but that was followed by finding ways to connect with other women veterans (32 percent) and ensuring their families’ financial stability (32 percent).
Roughly 68 percent said the military needs to take a bigger role in improving awareness of women’s military and veterans contributions, and 57 percent said veterans groups need to do more.
Forty-seven percent said the media needs to do a better job with that. When asked how often the entertainment industry portrays servicewomen, 78 percent said they rarely or never see those roles.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.