Transition Challenges for Women Veterans

In 2020, men and women veterans numbered 18.5 million, accounting for about 7 percent of the civilian population age 18 and over. Of all veterans, 1 in 10 were women, with over 2 million women veterans to date who represent around 10 percent of the veteran population. Women characterize the fastest-growing population in both military service and the veteran community. While they are consistently and impressively breaking down barriers, women veterans still experience unique challenges and gaps in transition, care, and employment—particularlduring their transition to civilian life and employment. State Workforce Agency personnel performing under the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (DOL VETS) Jobs for Veterans State Grant (JVSG) program should be aware of these challenges to effectively serve women veterans. Information for this article relative to this special population has been acquired from the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University and DOL VETS National Veterans Training Institute (NVTI).These organizations provide up-to-date research data and training opportunities for transitioning veterans and service providers.

When Women Leave Military Service

Top motivators for women entering the military include …educational benefits; opportunities to pursue new experiences, travel, and career enhancement; a desire to serve their country; and to achieve a sense of purpose. However, when exiting military service, nearly two-thirds of women veterans describe their separation as “difficult” or “very difficult,” with many reporting they were unprepared across many aspects of their transition. The Military Times identifies three key transition challenges that impact women veterans:

  1. They feel they have become invisible when leaving the service and often do not self-identify as a veteran;
  2. Military service in and of itself “de-feminizes” women, resulting in a variety of unexpected challenges associated with this deeply psychological transformation;
  3. A stark lack of peer support post-transition is often noted by female veterans where they report not feeling accepted by civilian women and struggle with finding a group of peers in which they feel supported and encouraged.

A majority of women veterans (54%) do not feel prepared to navigate resources in their local community (compared with 35% of male veterans) and considering the financial challenges of income loss after separation from the military, and almost half of women veterans are not aware of community resources available to them during hard financial times according to the IVMF. Therefore, when American Job Centers (AJC) staff conduct intake at your local AJCs, it is important to observe the unique challenges and disparities that women veterans face when transitioning from military service and the resources we must deploy to meet these critical needs prior to engaging them in career planning.

Women Veterans in the Civilian Workforce

As of March 2021, the DOL Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data for women veterans indicates that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the jobless rate for male veterans increased to 6.5 percent, and for women veterans it was higher, at 6.7 percent.  To counter these disproportionate statistics, we must begin by assessing the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) gained by women veterans from their service to launch a targeted career planning process. When surveyed, women veterans responded with these positive attributes of their military service: “work ethic”, “discipline”, “teamwork”, “adaptation to different challenges”, “mental toughness”, “leadership and management skills”, “professionalism”, “ability to get things done”, “perseverance”, “training and teaching others”, “self-discipline”, and “coping with adversity”—all factors that can be captured in their Individual Employment Plans and resumes.

During the career planning process, our evaluations identify the individual client’s KSAs. For women veterans, we need to be aware of the top occupations and industries present in our service areas that provide the best match and the most employment opportunities, and then network with those potential employers to build out successful outcomes such as placement and job sustainment.

Top 5 Occupations for Women VeteransTop 5 Industries for Women Veterans
Office and Administrative Support OccupationsHealth Care and Social Assistance
Management, Business, and Financial OccupationsPublic Administration
Service OccupationsEducational Services
Healthcare Practitioners and Technical OccupationsRetail Trade
Education, Legal, Community Service, Arts, and Media OccupationsProfessional, Scientific, and Technical Services

For some, obtaining a training certificate or degree are appropriate steps in the job search or career change. Community colleges and higher education universities provide learning pathways that can be supported through the educational benefits that are available to women veterans. According to IVMF, post 9/11, women veterans have a greater likelihood (84%) of achieving a college degree, higher than women non-veterans (63%) and male post-9/11 veterans (73%).By acknowledging this higher rate of success in post-secondary learning, service providers should make all possible options available to their clients—emphasizing their military and post-service education successes helps women veteran candidates to become more competitive in the labor market.

Entrepreneurship is a potential occupational avenue that is increasing for women veterans who are interested in starting their own businesses. Women-veteran-owned small businesses (WVOSBs) represent a growing economic powerhouse in our communities. The Small Business Administration reports that as of 2012, women veterans owned 383,302 businesses, generating $17.9 billion in sales. From 2007 to 2012, despite representing only 15.2 percent of all veteran-owned businesses, the number of WVOSBs increased by 295 percent. Service providers and career coaches can facilitate referrals to the Veterans Administration Office of Small & Disadvantaged Business Utilization, the Small Business Administration’s Office of Veterans Business Development, and local business incubators for their clients to network, gather data, attend entrepreneurship training, and secure start-up funding.

Improving Women Veterans’ Transition

Transition challenges often leave women veterans with a negative impression of their military service and they grow reluctant to reach out to government resources for assistance. In a 2021 report by the Wounded Warrior Project, the transition process for women veterans can be improved by developing and implementing appropriate changes to our local provision of employment and supportive services:

  • Mentoring and Networking. Women veterans are seeking mentors who can not only assist in navigating the job market, but who can help them grow professionally with an understanding of their background, unique skills, and the life experiences that set them apart.
  • Peer Support. Women’s small share of the veteran population both underscores the need for and represents a challenge in creating spaces for women veterans to connect. This is particularly evident at the point of transition to civilian life, during which many servicewomen feel overwhelmed with their numerous and evolving obligations. Peer support groups facilitate the expression of their shared challenges and concerns while building support systems that fight against isolation.
  • Childcare. Unavailability of childcare is often an insurmountable barrier for women veterans to participate in programs or services since they are often the primary caregivers to dependent children.
  • Environment. Women veterans who experienced trauma may be less likely to participate in a mixed-sex environment. Creating effective services and programming exclusively for women veterans (and of equal quality as the mixed-gender programming) is an important component to improving resources and creating more inclusive environments for women veterans.
  • Access to Resources. Women veterans feel they lack a clear understanding of the resources at their disposal and how to navigate them in a timely manner. In response, orientation programs have proven beneficial for women veterans by preparing them with the expectations and information to choose the right solutions for their individual needs.
  • Taught Resilience. The good news is that resilience can be taught; women veterans tend to leverage a unique formula of social support, spirituality, and self-care to overcome their sense of isolation and to form new identities post-service. These women often go on to become leaders in business, government, and local communities, and to thrive through challenging times.

Watch for the NVTI course 9610Career Coaching Special Populations training series, which includes a Women Veterans course offered to JVSG and partner organization staff.