When we think about some of the biggest issues facing our country's veterans, a few critical topics come to mind: homelessness, suicide risk and trauma.
But perhaps one of the simplest issues to confront and eliminate often goes unnoticed: recognition of women who served.
"As a female veteran, there are a lot of women out there that are not getting their due," said retired Petty Officer 1st Class Arlene Salvador.
Salvador, who served 21 years in the Navy, said even when she's out with her husband, an Army veteran, she's often overlooked when people thank him for his service.
"We’ll go to a mall, and he’ll be wearing my Navy t-shirt, and I’ll just be wearing (street clothes), and, it’s funny, (people) will grip and grin with him and shake his hand and say, ‘Thank you for your service,'" Salvador said. "But he’ll say, 'No, no. She’s the Navy veteran, I’m just wearing the t-shirt.'"
Kate Grunwald, who served in the Air Force, said she's never even been thanked by a civilian for her service.
"Since you’re not recognized as a female veteran, there’s not a lot of times they do thank us," Grunwald said. The only time she's been thanked is when she's been in a group of other female veterans and they thank one another.
To help educate the community about women who have served, and bring awareness to female veteran issues, retired Navy veteran Melissa Washington founded the Women's Veteran Alliance.
"When I first got out of the military, I didn't consider myself to be a veteran," Washington said. "My dad was a veteran. He was in the army, in combat, in Vietnam, but I didn't consider myself a veteran."
Washington said her inability to immediately identify as a veteran following her time in the Navy stemmed from the fact that she was a woman and wasn't in combat. When she finally began identifying as a veteran, though, she sought to help other female service members empower each other, and founded the alliance in 2015.
Salvador was one of the women who attended the alliance's first meeting.
"If we start from the very beginning, with little kids, and educate them and make them aware, then, guess what, we’re going to have a much better understanding of our veteran population and all the issues that they have." Salvador said.
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