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Women veterans unite for equality and recognition

Women veterans unite for equality and recognition

Women veterans unite for equality and recognition
March 18
12:00 2020

The word veteran often leads people to think about men in uniform, but the Women Veterans of America is here to remind us women serve, too.

Women Veterans of America advocates for all women veterans and women currently serving in the military. Their goals are to guarantee equal access to military benefits for women, ensure women veterans receive the best medical care by the Department of Veteran Affairs and ensure women veterans are recognized, honored and respected as much as their military brothers.

Denton WVA Commander Camilla Zimbal started the local chapter to pay homage to women veterans from all generations.

“I served during the Vietnam era and we didn’t get much honor and respect,” Zimbal said. “I didn’t want any of the women who came back today to feel that way.”

This year the group started a new tradition of recognizing the trailblazers who made it possible for them to join the military. Each month, a different trailblazer is honored at an event called “She Served Too.”

“Many of these women have never been acknowledged for their contributions to their country,” Zimbal said. “This is our way of advocating for our trailblazers who paved the way for us. These women served in programs like the Cadet Nurses Corps and Women in the Air Force. They didn’t receive benefits from the military and were never honored for their service. Until recently, they weren’t recognized as veterans.”

Chaplin Eva Fulton joined Zimbal along with three other women to start the local chapter. Male military veterans have the VFW and American Legion, but Fulton said when the group contemplated whether to join the male organizations, they realized they didn’t belong.

“We never quite felt like we blended in, they kept trying to put us in with the wives,” Fulton said. “We’re not just the wives, we served too. When I got out in 2000, I was a single mom and I didn’t want to go hang out at a smokey bar, it’s not a place you can take your children to and feel like you belong there. They still tend to do things the old smokey way and that’s not healthy for young women getting out who are trying to find a new start and find their new military family. We wanted to offer an alternative.”

Fulton said young women transitioning from military to civilian life have a hard time adjusting. Compared to male veterans, Fulton believes females have different problems transitioning.

“Society as a whole isn’t used to having women veterans,” Fulton said. “They don’t know how to accept us yet. Many female veterans don’t feel connected to society when they come out of the military.”

Christina Christensen, a UNT alumna and WVA member, experienced a disconnection when she transitioned from military life to student life at UNT. When Christina began her education in 2007, there wasn’t much support for student veterans, but she played an active role in changing that. Christensen was one of the first volunteers for UNT’s Veteran Center when the former Dean of Students Mona Hicks founded it. She said she met Hicks through involvement with her sorority.

Christensen was drawn to the WVA in the same way she was drawn to Greek life in college — through the offer of comradery and sisterhood.

“It’s always great being around like-minded people,” Christensen said. “But when it comes to the military, it’s a completely different world. It’s amazing to be around people who get it, especially other women.”

Women in WVA said they need their own organization because their experience in the military is different from a man’s experience. One of the main differences is access to healthcare, Christensen said.

“Female veterans are usually assumed to be the family member of a veteran,” Christensen said. “If I need to go to the VA to be seen as a patient, I will wear something that shows my service so they can clearly see that I’m the veteran.”

Another problem with accessing healthcare as a female veteran is the lack of resources, Fulton said.

“It comes down to identity,” Fulton said. “Everybody thinks a veteran is a man. We have over 16,000 women veterans in North Texas, but there’s only one OB/GYN available at the Dallas VA. Only one special doctor for 16,000 women.”

Fulton said stigmas exist surrounding veterans’ mental health, too, which can contribute to veteran unemployment.

“I think there’s a stigma out there that all veterans have PTSD,” Fulton said. “That’s not true. Some veterans do have PTSD, but it’s not all veterans. Movies and stories in the news make it look like it’s everybody. We need to remove the stigma.”

Even though inequality still exists in the military, Zimbal said, male veterans have been helpful and supportive of the Denton WVA. Fulton said the public can also help female veterans by hiring them to work in their organizations and accurately representing them in the media.

Despite the challenges Fulton, Zimbal and Christensen faced transitioning back to civilian life, they said they are all proud of their service. They believe women can gain a lot from serving in the military.

“I would advise any woman to join the military,” Zimbal said. “It is an avenue to developing skills and education. Everything a woman learns in the military will benefit her in the future.”

Denton WVA is growing and encouraging more local women veterans to join their sisterhood.

Courtesy Camilla Zimbal

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Shelby Stevens

Shelby Stevens

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