When women veterans return from the front lines, they can often get lost in the transition.
As Gov. Doug Ducey calls for veterans to make Arizona their home, he and agencies across the state are making a point of including women warriors in that message.
Among those leading the way is Col. Wanda Wright, director of the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services (ADVS).
“Women veterans are less likely than men to identify themselves as veterans, and therefore are less inclined to engage with their earned services and benefits,” said retired Col. Wright, whose military roots go back three generations in her family.
As director, Wright oversees various veterans operations throughout the state, including the counselors who assist Arizona’s 600,000 veterans navigate a system of federal benefits. Among those, about 50,000 are women.
Women veterans often overlooked
“Transitioning from a familiar community, like the military, to an unknown one can also be a struggle,” said Wright, who is working firsthand to help bridge that gap.
Col. Wright in 2018 was appointed to the U.S. Veterans Administration’s Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, an expert national panel that advises the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs on issues and programs impacting women veterans.
“Women veterans are the fastest growing demographic within the military. We all need to be ready when they arrive as veterans. We need to ensure there is health care, education, and employment in place for them when they get here,” said Wright, whose military career spanned three decades before she moved into the civilian arena.
Women vets bring many benefits
Like many veterans, females returning home from a military assignment often have specialized training in both soft and hard skills. But because they may not have a college degree or certifications and licenses, they often land in positions where they are overqualified.
“Veterans aren’t taught how to network. In my experience, networking is one of the most important avenues to getting a job,” Wright said. “Only 10 percent of veterans are women, so when we’re in the interview stage of employment, employers have a hard time understanding what a woman veteran really is and what value they can bring.”
Programs to help them shine
Agencies like the ADVS and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) are helping female and military members and their spouses with networking, job training, education, small business loans, health services, benefits and more.
Programs dedicated to helping veterans succeed include:
Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services assists Arizona veterans and their dependents in receiving all their federal and state benefits.
Veterans Business Outreach Center program provides entrepreneurial development services such as business training, counseling and resource partner referrals to transitioning service members, Veterans, National Guard and Reserve members and military spouses interested in starting or growing a small business.
SBA competition to help women veterans
To further encourage organizations to invest in women veterans and women military spouses, the SBA is accepting applications from eligible nonprofit organizations, state and local agencies, and institutions of higher learning to compete for funding of up to $300,000 to deliver entrepreneurship training to women service members, women veterans and women military spouses.
The SBA’s Office of Veterans Business Development will administer the grants through the Women Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Program.
Incentives to make Arizona home
Gov. Ducey has called on service members to come to Arizona and taken steps to make the state more military friendly.
Last year, Arizona was the first state to recognize out-of-state licenses in many fields. New Arizonans, including veterans and their spouses, can now become licensed in the state without having to undergo additional training.
This year, Ducey vowed to eliminate income taxes on military pensions.
“We have a goal. To make Arizona home base for veterans everywhere in the country,” Ducey said upon announcing his budget plan that includes the tax exemption. “These women and men make our state strong. To all our veterans everywhere, from California to New York state, Arizona wants all of you. You put our country first and now with this budget Arizona will put you first.”