Female veterans aren't always recognized like their male counterparts are. Sometimes they're overlooked even when they're seeking the help they've earned.
"We hear about women going into [Veterans Affairs hospitals], and male veteran patients assume they're just wives or daughters or sisters of veterans instead of being the veterans themselves," said Kayla Williams, the director of the Department of Veterans Affairs' Center for Women Veterans. "Occasionally, even VA employees will ask if they're there with their husbands."
The center is working to remedy that, and Williams -- who knows the struggle -- is leading the charge.
An Army vet herself, Williams served from 2000 to 2005 as an Arabic linguist and spent a year in Iraq during the initial invasion. She eventually left the Army to take care of her husband, Army Staff Sgt. Brian McGough, who was seriously injured during deployment. During that journey of recovery, she realized how differently female war vets were treated.
MORE RECOGNITION NEEDED
"We would go out to get beers to celebrate coming home alive, and the bartender would say, 'Hey, somebody buy these guys a round,' and the patrons would take him very literally," Williams said. "The assumption was that only the guys were combat vets."
It was that sense of invisibility that made the transition back more difficult for her and other female soldiers, so she used her GI Bill for graduate school and became an advocate on behalf of military women and wounded warriors. Instead of focusing on the challenges that female vets face, Williams said, she wanted to highlight their successes -- like the fact that female vets are more likely to use their GI Bill and more apt to graduate than male vets.
"Women who come back to their communities after service are strong, resilient and come back with leadership and technical skills with lots to give," Williams said.
HIGHLIGHTING THRIVING FEMALE VETS
To get more VA providers and male vets to recognize that, the Center for Women Veterans is honoring the creativity and resilience of female vets and active-duty women this Women's History Month.
The VA worked with the nonprofit Veterans Artist Program to find female veterans and active-duty service members who had also become artists. More than 120 women submitted nearly 400 works of art for the 2017 Woman Veterans Art Exhibit. The artists were narrowed down to the top 10, and their profiles and artwork have been displayed at VA Medical Centers around the country.
"All of these women are so brave and strong and just wonderful examples of the resilience of women veterans and all our veterans," Williams said.
Click through the gallery at the top to learn more these women and see their artwork.