Women are the fastest growing group within the veteran population according to the Veterans Health Administration. Yet female vets may not identify themselves as a veteran or use their VA benefits.
Why women vets avoid mentioning their military service is one of several questions being explored by University of South Florida doctoral student Kiersten Downs.
Her dissertation, “Women Veterans and Re-Entry after Military Service- A Research Study,” will include information from an anonymous, online survey of women veterans from all eras. She’ll also interview both female and male veterans and community stakeholders.
“Probably one of the biggest hurdles is just finding people to participate,” Downs said. “But I think the message I want to communicate to my fellow veterans is that in order for legislators and people in Washington DC to make policies that are going to serve us as military and veterans, they need to understand us.”
After eight years in the Air Force and Air National Guard and as the former president of the University of South Florida Student Veterans Association, Downs knows there’s a lot to learn about the changing world of women veterans
Bringing the veterans’ experiences to elected officials and policy makers is the mission of her dissertation research.
“My overall goal is to really advocate for our population for greater representation in Washington DC and also at the state and local levels and to use the experiences that I’m gathering from other women veterans to ultimately change policy so that it serves us and our population,” Downs said.
Women veterans are invited to take the online survey. There’s also an opportunity to volunteer for an additional phone interview. She will also maintain, a blog, a Facebook page on her women veterans re-entry dissertation and has a Twitter handle, @WmnVetsResearch..
If Downs sounds like a familiar voice, she also served as the community outreach coordinator for WUSF’s Veterans Coming Home project in 2014. She is the former president of the USF Student Veterans Association and the summer of 2013 she cycled across the United States to raise awareness of student veterans. Her ride also raised more than $50,000 in donations for the national Student Veterans of America.