Alaska has one of the highest numbers of women veterans per capita in the country, but fewer than a third access services from Veterans Affairs.
Many women in the state don’t realize they’re eligible for VA services, said Vanessa Meade, who helped spearhead a new project, Operation Mary Louise, that will connect women veterans with one another and provide resources.
“A lot of times, women will say they served in the military before they identify as a veteran,” said Meade, a Gulf War Army veteran and an assistant professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage School of Social Work.
While women are the fastest-growing veteran demographic in the U.S., they account for only about 10% of military members overall. Women veterans face a distinctly different set of challenges from men, said Monique Andrews, who manages the Alaska Army National Guard program of resilience risk reduction and suicide prevention.
“They are asked to continue to navigate systems that are primarily centered and focused around men,” she said. “… Women veterans experience homelessness at higher rates compared to male veterans, as well as increased rates of sexual assault compared to their male counterparts. Currently, women veterans are twice as likely to die by suicide than are their civilian counterparts.”
The VA offers specialized women’s health services and other care at no cost to veterans. Meade said Operation Mary Louise intends to connect women veterans with the resources and benefits available to them.
The project was launched Monday and will host online meetings monthly at operationmarylouise.org. The group will provide outreach to women veterans throughout the state and hopes to increase visibility and understanding of issues related to women veterans. Meade said they also hope to connect with rural veterans, who may not think that they qualify for services due to their remote location.
The project is named after Mary Louise Rasmuson, who was commandant of the Women’s Army Corps during the late 1950s and early 1960s. She was an advocate for women in the military and worked to improve laws and benefits. The project is sponsored by the Rasmuson Foundation, where she served as a board member for 45 years.
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