In recent years, June 12th has unofficially become Women Veterans Day in the United States. There is a fierce debate in the Veteran community this time each year—even among women Veterans. Should there should be a separate day recognizing women who served in the military?
There are valid statements being made on both sides of the argument. But there are two important points that should not be lost in the chaos of disagreement. One is worth celebrating, and the other requires a commitment—from both women AND men—to continue striving for change.
A HUGE MILESTONE
First, June 12th is hugely significant for women in the military. It marks the day in 1948 when President Truman signed the Women’s Armed Forces Integration Act. (This is 173 years after America’s first military branch was established.) For the first time, women were granted permanent status as members of the Armed Forces. This meant we were allowed to do jobs beyond nursing, and not just during times of war. Although there would still be severe restrictions and clear double standards placed on our service for decades to come, it was a HUGE step forward for women in the military.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
Second, despite huge advances made in recent decades for women to gain more equal footing in the military, there is still important work to be done. Women are the fastest growing segment in the active duty population. But we also leave in greater numbers for a variety of reasons. Those reasons often boil down to lack of support or accountability on pervasive and complex issues such as MST. Once women hang up their uniforms and join the Veteran community, there are a new set of wide-ranging challenges to face. It could mean receiving safe, appropriate, gender-specific care at the VA. Or it could be something as simple as even being seen by the general public as a Veteran at all.
Hopefully a day will come where we will no longer need this distinction. But until these challenges are resolved, it is our view that Women Veterans Day is necessary and helpful. It is not meant to take away from the millions of men who also proudly served, but to bring visibility to the growing number of women in the military/veteran environment and the unique challenges we still face.
Photo credit: US Army.