Did you know that in a growing number of states, women have a Veteran’s day of their own? While some people embrace the idea as a tool of awareness, others find it unnecessary or even unhelpful. Ultimately, there are a few key reasons why the observance of this day expands each year.
Origins of Women Veteran’s Day
California first declared June 12th as Women Veteran’s Day in 2015, urging citizens to embrace the numerous contributions of women to our military forces. This is fitting for a state that is home to one of the largest populations of women Veterans in the US. California is second only to Texas in the number of women who served—last count was more than 177,500.
Today there are a growing number of states now honoring women Veterans on June 12th. In addition to California and Texas, these include Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Oregon. Additionally, several states observe Women Veteran’s Day on other dates—mostly in March to coincide with Women’s History Month. In particular; Alaska, Georgia, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and US territory Puerto Rico. (The list continues to grow, so please let us know if we missed a state.)
Last year, the House and Senate introduced separate resolutions to recognize Women Veterans Appreciation Day nationally. The senate resolution passed, the house resolution stalled out, but the verbiage in both was specific to June 12, 2019. Understandably this doesn’t seem to be a high priority for 2020, but perhaps it will be revisited in the future.
The Women’s Armed Services Integration Act
Choosing June 12th for Women Veteran’s Day was no accident. It coincides with the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, signed into law 72 years ago on June 12th, 1948.
After World War II, the Army asked Congress to grant members of the Women’s Auxiliary Corps permanent status. The resulting Integration Act assured women in non-nursing occupations a place in the military during times of peace.
The Long Road to Progress
Despite this major victory for women in the armed forces, females were restricted to just 2% of total enlistment. And the small number of women who could enlist did not receive equal pay, treatment or opportunities. Women were not allowed to train alongside men or lead them, and pregnancy meant involuntary separation from service. The severe cap on women’s enlistment remained in place until 1967. In the 1970’s new laws further opened doors for women, including increased opportunities in training and leadership.
Incredibly, it took until 1980 for women to gain official Veteran status. Despite the fact that women have volunteered—in uniform or out, in secret or in public—for every conflict since the revolutionary war, the 1980 US Census was the first time women were asked if they had ever served in the armed forces. An impressive 1.2 million women spoke up to say they had. This opened the door not only for women to identify as Veterans, but to claim the VA benefits earned by those who served.
…it took until 1980 for women to gain official Veteran status. Despite the fact that women have volunteered—in uniform or out, in secret or in public—for every conflict since the revolutionary war, the 1980 US Census was the first time women were asked if they had ever served in the armed forces.
Women in the Military Today
It would take nearly seven decades for the doors of opportunity to be fully opened to women in the military. In 2016, the Pentagon officially opened all combat jobs to women, although some had already served in combat roles unofficially. Today, women have a shot at any job the military offers as long as they meet the specific role requirements. In 2020, women are the fastest growing segment of both military and Veterans populations, accounting for roughly 20% and 10% respectively. And the numbers continue to rise. With this increase comes a growing need for access to veteran benefits and resources that align with the needs and challenges women face post-service.
The Equality Argument
Some wonder why women have a Veteran’s Day when there is already a date in November designated for all Veterans. Some believe that if there is a Women Veteran’s Day, there should also be a Veteran’s Day for men. There is also the belief that if women want to be treated as equals, they shouldn’t set themselves apart.
On the other hand, one could argue that because women are still fighting for equality, shining a light on women’s contributions helps change perceptions and level the playing field.
Where Progress Still Lags
The reality is that progress still lags for both Active Duty and Veteran women in several areas. Sexual assault and harassment affects Active Duty women far more than men. Post-service, women continue to navigate these risks while seeking treatment at VA facilities. Women still battle gender bias during and after service; while women of color face the compounded burden of gender bias and racial discrimination. (Female Veterans are also more racially and ethnically diverse than their male counterparts.) Women Veterans face inconsistent or inadequate access to women’s healthcare at the VA, and some fight to be taken seriously for injuries and illnesses related to their time in service.
Women still battle gender bias during and after service; while women of color face the compounded burden of gender bias and racial discrimination.
A great deal of women who served also feel invisible as Veterans. This invisibility presents itself in many ways, but is most devastating for women Veterans in need of the treatments and services provided by the VA, Veteran Service Organizations, and vet-focused community groups.
This list is not exhaustive, but it does highlight a few areas where more work needs to be done. For these reasons, we believe that Women Veteran’s Day should be observed until there is no longer a need to battle inequality within the military and Veteran communities.
Do you disagree or have something to add about Women Veteran’s Day? We’d love to hear your thoughts.