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November 11, 2012

State strives to meet needs of women returning from war

More than 200,000 women have served their county with the U.S. military in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last 11 years in the aftermath of the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

State officials fear that many of these veterans have returned home only to become silent victims of war because they don’t get the help they need on a variety of health, social issues and economical issues.

“We feel we only have a partial grasp of the problem,” state Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, D-Methuen, said in an interview last week.

“Unless they reach out to us, it’s difficult to tabulate how many there are. It’s hard to gauge whether they need additional support or not because veterans are the last folks to ask whether they need additional help. So, it’s incumbent for us to reach out to them first because we have comprehensive services to offer them,” said Campbell, vice chair of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs.

Officials estimate anywhere from 15,000 to 26,000 women veterans in Massachusetts – one in 10 who served in the Iraq or Afghanistan conflicts, according to Campbell. There are close to 3,000 women veterans across Essex County.

Women are the fastest growing population of veterans, accounting for 15 percent of the active duty service members and 20 percent of the new recruits, she noted.

The plight of women veterans and the complex challenges they face upon their return home has been an ongoing concern for the state Department of Veterans Services for several years. It has also been a primary area of expertise for Campbell during her time in the state Legislature. She’s a U.S. Army veteran who served eight years of active duty, including two as a paratrooper.

“For most women veterans, the challenges coming home are the same as their male counterparts: difficulty finding a job and adjusting to civilian life without the support of their ‘military family’, and dealing with the wounds of war, both visible and invisible,” Campbell said.

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