Women already facing discrimination issues in the ranks confront similar challenges being accepted as "real veterans" in their post-military life, according to a new study released by officials at The Mission Continues on Monday.
The survey of women fellows in the group in April found that about two-thirds did not feel "respected and valued as veterans," because of a lack of respect of their service or assumptions they must be spouses instead of former service members.
That feeling in turn hurt their sense of identity and ability to connect with others.
Paired with a shortage of female-specific services at the Department of Veterans Affairs and other military outreach efforts, the struggles left 70 percent of the women surveyed with significant difficulties forming strong relationships after their military lives ended.
"There are limited structured opportunities for women veterans to connect with others who can relate to their experiences and support them during their reintegration," the report states.
"The relatively small number of women veterans can make it even more difficult for them to connect with each other. This can have a negative impact on women veterans' mental health and their successful reintegration into to civilian life."
The 71-person survey does not carry any scientific or statistical weight for the veteran population as a whole, but does offer a snapshot of some of the specific challenges subgroups of veterans face transitioning back into a civilian society that often has only a partial understanding of overall military culture and lifestyle.
Female veterans make up about 16 percent of the country's veterans population, the highest rate in U.S. history. But advocates have long complained that too many veterans services and resources are still geared toward men only, without enough flexibility or knowledge to fully assist those millions of female veterans.
The organization's stated goal is to help veterans with their military-to-civilian transition through community service, with a host of subsidized fellowship programs and volunteer teams nationwide.
Nearly all the women in the April survey reported feeling stronger connections to the community and to fellow veterans as a result of that volunteer work, leading to less overall stress and a better sense of identity.
Report authors say the report findings indicate more focus on the issue of women veterans reintegration, including "greater recognition and respect to women veterans" in the country at large.
The full report can be read at the group's web site.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.