A Look at Women in the Military, and Military Families as a Vulnerable Population

Member Blog

Women Give San Diego, recently hosted an evening at the Braille Institute, focused on a deeper look at one of the vulnerable populations we serve in San Diego; women in the military and military families.

The agenda for the evening was on what it means to be in a vulnerable population in San Diego, particularly on women in the military and military families. Our keynote speaker, Susan Davis, was called back to Washington, DC, to deal with the US Budget crisis, however, two knowledgeable speakers on the military situation stepped in. Joe Buehrle, Director for San Diego Military Family Collaborative (SDMFC) and Barbara Padilla, Chair of the Family Readiness Group, hosted a lively and informative discussion.

SDMFC grew from 6 to over 100 military and social service organizations in the last year, establishing one place where all family matters can be addressed. While the average number of military children per US county is 1600, here in San Diego County we have 60,000 military children who need service! Due to the complexity of the issues facing military families, this is a daunting task. Over 100,000 women have served in the military since Sept. 11, 2001. Ten percent of veterans are women and they comprise 15% of active duty military now. The number of homeless veterans rose 140% from 2006-2010. Sadly, women veterans are the fastest growing category of homeless in the US (4 times higher than civilian women). Barbara Padilla, shed some light on the difficulties facing women veterans when she discussed her own situation. Having served on active duty in the Navy and having had a stellar record, she still found it very difficult to find employment in the civilian sector – so much so that she joined the Reserves. This enabled her to both support her family and to return to a career where her skills were needed and appreciated. Barbara opened our eyes to the hesitancy that female veterans have in sharing that they served in the military because of reactions they get from every day people. We all realized that a culture shift needs to occur in our society regarding the legitimacy of women serving in the military so that these women returning to civilian life have more peer and societal support.

Contrary to some public misunderstanding, women are definitely serving in harm’s way (Female Engagement Teams). Right now the Marines are focused on the first group of infantry women set to deploy and also on the over 26,000 cases of sexual assault. A lively discussion resulted regarding the percentage of sexual assaults that occur on college campuses (25%) and whether this statistic could be compared to the military, where the standards are higher and the risk of speaking out after an assault are greater. The system whereby the military deals with the reporting of assaults has changed recently in an effort to have a more independent review of cases. All of our hope is that this will aid in both encouraging those who have been assaulted to come forward and in the fair processing of these claims. Finally, one half of returning veterans come home with symptoms of PTSD. Many of the women will not choose to get help for this, due to fear of retribution or harm to their career, just as they have been hesitant in the past to report sexual assaults. These facts are why the next steps for women veterans ‘services is in providing more outreach and changing how services are delivered – more co-location and more discretion.

Richard Ybarra, head of The Braille Institute and our gracious host, closed out the evening with an introduction to the work that the Braille Institute is doing in San Diego County. They have about 30 staff and 400 adults and youth volunteers, enabling them to serve over 5,000 people annually. The services provided are entirely free and those served have a variety of degrees of inhibited sight. Less than 10% of those served are totally blind, contrary to the stereotype of the Braille Institute!

Richard shared two interesting lessons that he has learned as a result of his work: (1) There are no sad tales at The Institute, and (2) You can lose your eyesight but you can never lose your vision.