By Ivan Cazares
The support network Veterans Empowering Through Sisterhood was established this semester as part of Veterans of East Los Angeles College to empower women veterans and reach out to the community.
Members received a tour of the Downtown Women’s Center on Friday after delivering clothes donated by the ELAC community.
“We have 142 (female veterans) who are currently taking classes. We were providing workshops through the Veterans Resource Center that just weren’t working anymore. We wanted to redo it to be more hands on,” counselor Jessica Peak said.
Peak added that VETS was founded to encourage female veterans to talk about subjects that they might not feel comfortable sharing with their male peers, like sexual abuse.
She said that although men also face hazing in the military, sexual abuse against women is an issue that needs to be addressed. Peaks said the issue has gained some media attention and that the military has addressed it.
However, she also said there are many cases women in the military where women don’t report sexual abuse for fear of being discharged and losing their benefits.
The VETS’s visit to the women’s center was its first outreach effort.
However, it plans on organizing clothing drives every semester and supporting other women resource centers that help female veterans.
“I think there are unique challenges with homeless women. Domestic abuse and violence is huge, even among veterans. They (the Downtown Women’s Center) is reaching out and helping women in that situation,” Peak said.
The Downtown Women’s Center was founded in 1978 by Jill Halverson after she realized the services offered to the homeless didn’t adequately service women. The day center currently serves around 200 women a day.
Approximately 64 of them are veterans. It provides resources like clothing, sanitation supplies, peer support and job training.
“Transitioning to a civilian has been the hardest thing I’ve had to do. Being in the military was easy for me. You’re told what to do. You’re told what to wear. You’re told how to wear your hair. I was used to the routine,” ELAC student and VETS peer mentor Vonnie Ricks said.
Ricks served four years in the United States Marine Corps managing supplies and was later part of the military police. She is now studying sociology and hopes to be able to help children who have suffered from abuse.
“I didn’t realize that I needed to be around other female vets until it was brought to my attention. I didn’t think about it. I just went along with whatever the military gave me,” Veterans of ELAC Vice President Julia Casas said.
Casas served eight years in the U.S. Navy working as a computer technician. She is now studying business administration and plans to transfer in the fall. Peak said failing to transition is one of the reasons many veterans end up homeless.
She also gave other reasons can included Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and lack of family support, but in many cases, it’s a lack of knowledge on how to access resources like the GI Bill.
Ricks said that some veterans just don’t feel like they have a purpose after leaving the military.
The GI Bill is a form of financial aid provided to U.S. military men and women after they finish their service in the military to help with school or job training.
The United States Department of Veterans Affairs reported in 2015 that 49,933 veterans are living in homelessness as of 2014.
The National Coalition For Homeless Veterans reportedin 2010 that 3,228 women veterans are homeless as of that year.
The Veterans Resource Center is located in D7. Women veterans interested in VETS can call (323) 415-5052.