The Los Angeles County Department of Military and Veterans Affairs last weekend kicked off the first countywide Women's Military and Veterans program.
The program, based on results in a survey by the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls, will encompass a series of yearlong events and resources to assist female veterans as they transition from military service.
From 1973 to 2010, the number of women actively serving in the military has risen from approximately 42,000 to 167,000 according to the Pew Research Center. This growth has signaled the need for more comprehensive resources for women veterans who are in transition.
In 2012, Stephanie Stone, chief deputy director at the MVA, came to the realization that while L.A. County is the second largest county for women veterans, there wasn't a specialized program for them. "We recognized there was a need for it, so we started looking at what was done at the statewide level," she said.
The MVA will explore several themes throughout the program. In August, it will launch "Transitioning," a theme that explores the resources and challenges of female veterans as they transition from service, followed by other themes like housing and mental health.
Stone, a Navy veteran, has spent decades supporting the veteran community in Southern California. She has also been spreading awareness about military sexual trauma, a topic she learned about in great detail during a women's veterans conference she had attended in 2009.
"We know that this has been an issue for generations. We want to do a couple things: Ultimately it's connecting women to the resources and the benefits they've already earned which we don't do as a community. We want to connect them to resources and recognize we can work together on these issues," said Stone.
The VA defines military sexual trauma as "psychological trauma resulting from a physical assault of a sexual nature, battery of a sexual nature, or sexual harassment while the Veteran was serving on active duty or active duty for training."
KCET's news magazine, "SoCal Connected," recently aired a story about Angie Peacock, an Army veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and sexual assault. In 2009, she enrolled in Renew, a specialized 12-week sexual trauma program at Long Beach Veterans Affairs.
Women veterans who have experienced MST can apply for disability compensation through a VA Form.
Through the program, the MVA also hopes to address the issue of homelessness within the women veterans community in L.A. County and beyond.
"We want to see women connecting to their veteran benefits and we want to start seeing the end of homelessness for women veterans."
The Women's Military and Veterans program is open to female veterans every third Saturday of the month at Bob Hope Patriotic Hall.