S.E. Williams | Contributor
This month as the nation turns its attention to honor the many who have served, there is no better time to consider the service and needs of the thousands of women who have braved the non-traditional path of military service to this country.
In 2019 there are more than 122,500 veterans in Riverside County and nearly ten percent of them are women. These women represent service in every branch of the military and in every American conflict in modern history including World War II.
According to Lisa Roybal, Women Veterans Program Manager at Loma Linda VA Medical Center, “We have a few WWII women, the oldest being seen at Loma Linda VA Medical Center is 100.” Remarkably, of the 12,252 women veterans in Riverside County, 553 of them are 85 years of age and older.
Female veterans also have complex medical needs related to physical and mental health. Roybal explained, “56 percent of women veterans using VA care have a service-connected disability, meaning an injury or illness that was incurred or aggravated during service.” She shared adding, “One in five women veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are diagnosed with PTSD. “
“Women, she explained further, “are the fastest growing segment of the homeless veteran population and are more likely to be homeless with children.”
Interestingly, the 2019 Homeless Veteran Point in Time Count does not breakdown the number of veterans between male and female, rather it lists the total homeless veterans in one category. This represented a 51 percent increase from 2018. Fortunately, veterans represent one of the special homeless subpopulations Riverside county has targeted for significant attention in its effort to provide services where they are most needed.
I hope the fathers and mothers of little girls will look at them and say, ‘Yes, women can.’
– Dilma Rousseff
Although 107 represents a small percent of the county’s total veteran population, there are ongoing efforts to help homeless veterans get off the streets and into housing. “Riverside County was the first large county in the nation to reach ‘functional zero’ veterans homelessness which means once a homeless veteran is identified that wants to be housed, the county has a system in place which collaborates with many community, city, county, state, and federal stakeholders, to get homeless veterans into housing in a relatively short period of time,” Roybal said.
The county has homeless outreach teams consisting of members from Behavioral Health, public safety, probation, law enforcement, the Veterans Administration, the Housing Authority, TLMA, Parks and Recreation, Code Enforcement, Social Services, City Homeless teams, volunteers and more.
“[They] go out to the streets and to encampments to find and help those that are homeless to find shelter, medical and behavioral health care, treatment for substance and alcohol abuse, financial assistance, disability, food, and permanent housing,” she continued.
The County Department of Public Social Services, (DPSS) Homeless services team , the Continuum of Care (made of several non-profit organizations and government partners), Behavioral Health ‘HOPE’ team, the Riverside County Housing Authority, the city’s homeless outreach teams, law enforcement, the Transportation & Land Management Agency (TLMA), Parks and Recreation, and others collaboratively work together, as well as County Veterans’ Services.
Roybal shared how County Veterans’ Services assists with verifying the veterans service for the Housing Authority, requesting copies of Military Records, enrolling in VA healthcare and applying for any monetary benefits they may qualify to help them to sustain housing once they are housed. “Veterans Services also helps to link homeless veterans to the appropriate team members for intake into the Coordinated Entry System (CES) and to the collaborative team members previously mentioned. The efforts to help homeless veterans and all homeless to get the care they need and off the streets is truly a community collaborative effort on a large scale.”
The Riverside County Veterans Service office assist with helping homeless women veterans (all veterans) by linking them to the resources, services and assistance that they may need. This includes housing, employment, education/training programs, public social services, social security, cash and food aid, etc. “Our main focus is to advocate and assist them with obtaining all the local, state, and federal veterans benefits that they are eligible for to help improve their quality of life and thrive,” Roybal stressed.
A starting point for a female (or any) veteran seeking assistance is to contact the nearest county Veterans Services office. [W]e are a one-stop shop to apply for benefits, verify service, and link veterans to the appropriate resources in our community and county that can assist them,” she advised. Veterans can call 1-844-737-8838 to find a local County Veterans Service office near them.
Through November as we continue to honor our veterans remember military service has had notable impact on women veterans. When we reflect on the service of these women remember:
• 56 percent of women veterans using VA care have a service-connected disability, meaning an injury or illness that was incurred or aggravated during their service;
• one in five women seen by VA health care respond “yes” when screened for Military Sexual Trauma which includes sexual harassment and/or assault
• The most common medical conditions for which women veterans turn to the VA include musculoskeletal and connective tissue related issues, mental health disorders, readjustment difficulties, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
• Many women veterans do not know or identify with the “veteran status” or tend to see the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as their grandfather or father’s benefit. As a result, some women veterans are often unaware they may be eligible for health care and other benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).