BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — For any veteran, adjusting to civilian life after service can be filled with obstacles. For women veterans, identity can be especially tough.
From our Denver sister station, Vanessa Misciagna met with a veteran’s group that's giving women community and fellowship to help find themselves after serving.
“I got completely out of the army. I felt like I didn't owe the army anything. I was just ready for the next chapter and. Then when I started working on the civilian side, I just went into work, work, work. Cause that's what I was used to. And I started to feel so alone.” For Emily Hernandez, transitioning from sergeant to civilian took a toll she did not expect
After seven years of active duty in the army and a tour in Afghanistan, Emily came back to her hometown of Shelbyville KY with her son and husband. When she got back to friends and family, something was missing – she could no longer relate to the people around her.
“You want to be there for them and…and relate to them. But it's a little difficult when you're like that's really not worth complaining about, there are so many other larger issues.”
In the US – there are 2 million female veterans and although women make up only 9% of the military it’s the fastest growing military and veteran population.
In a recent study published by Boston Medical Center this year, it was found that although female veterans were younger with less combat experience, they were more likely to have lifetime PTSD, depression, suicidal ideation, and more likely to use lifetime mental health services, compared to male veterans.
“It probably took a good 15 years before I really started to see the impact of Missing that element of serving in my community. It came in depression; it came out in anxiety just the missing element of that connection. I think so many women in my generation and, and even with our Iraq and later veterans missing that element, it shows up and in those ways.”
Sherry Whitehouse says the root of the mental obstacles for many female veterans is finding the understanding and a sense of identity they had in service in their new role as a civilian. It’s something she struggled with until she found it in helping others like her – at Veterans Club.
“Our ladies definitely have been underserved in the past and I'm grateful to the veterans club for allowing that space to be open, safe and supported,” Whitehouse said.
The Kentucky-based organization helps more than 6,000 veterans by providing that missing link of understanding – providing healing through connection.
Founder Jeremy Harrell said they started a women-only group because the need was great: “It's a rare thing from what I understand, and it shouldn't be, and we hope that this helps others go. ‘We should probably do that too,’ because there's some women out there who gave their all for the defense of this country. That are hurting because they don't feel like anybody cares.”
Sherry is the leader of that program, helping women to open up and own every aspect of their self.
“If I walk down the street, I promise you, they're not going to look at me and say, ‘Oh, that's a vet.’ As for men, they wear the hats, they identify, they are at the VFWs, they're at the American legions, they're showing up at the rallies, but so are women. You know, we just continue on, and find a community, they just don't self-identify. That's one of the things that I've worked really hard to change just across the board with our ladies that it's okay to stand up, it's okay to say I served, it's okay to say that I need help.”
Emily admits feeling those same emotions, “I didn't want to admit somethings in my own self-reflection. So, when I would hear people in the veteran’s club explain their stories and it sounded a lot like mine that's when I started feeling like, ‘Oh, like I needed this’, and I think that equally they need me as well.
With the help of Sherry and Jeremy, Emily has now found that missing piece with the other women of Veterans Club. She hopes other women take the step in finding a community who understand
“Reach out and understand that you're not alone and once the militaries over or even if it's not, you know, there's a big group of people that are here and we want to welcome you with open arms.”