By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Marlborough – The plight of veterans who have difficulty assimilating back into society has received, rightfully, much attention. For many women veterans, the problem can be compounded by a host of factors, some as complex as military sexual trauma (MST) or simply not being aware of what services are available. Those are the veterans that Mary-Meg Walsh, an employment and training specialist with Veterans Inc., strives to help.
At the Nov. 12 meeting of the Corridor Nine Area Chamber of Commerce’s women’s networking group, Business Forward Females (BFF), Walsh shared her story with the nearly 80 women in attendance.
Walsh is a veteran herself of both the United States Air Force and the Air National Guard. Throughout her career she had many exciting opportunities, including working on FB-111A long range jet bombers.
The military was – and still is – a male-dominated field, she said. As such, she faced discrimination at times. She got through that, she said, with the help of her “fabulous mother” who urged her to “think of the women behind you.”
“She always told me ‘can’t never did anything,’ and ‘to always reach for the stars,’” Walsh said.
“The military has many wonderful opportunities for women,” she added. “I just want the girls who enter to go further than me.”
Now, as an employment and training specialist with Veterans Inc., her mission is, she said, to assist homeless women veterans. In a 2013 survey commissioned by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), it was found, Walsh said, that the majority of women veterans do not know about all of the benefits that they are entitled to.
There are now approximately 23 million living veterans in the United States, of which an estimated 32,400 live in Massachusetts. Approximately 10 percent of those are women. Approximately 33 percent of veterans are homeless but most statistics don’t break out the number of women versus men, Walsh said.
There are many factors that could cause a veteran to find herself homeless, such as combat-related physical and/or mental health issues and disabilities, substance abuse, limited education and lack of transferable skills from military to civilian life.
Child care is also another significant factor, Walsh added, whether the mother is a veteran herself or the spouse of a veteran who may no longer be providing child support.
“And too many women are also victims of MST – military sexual trauma,” she said. “Discrimination has gotten ‘better,’ but it still does happen.”
Although the VA has been in the spotlight over the past year for its mismanagement of many cases, it is working toward developing some women’s centers in some of its facilities.
Part of Walsh’s work with Veterans Inc., includes overseeing grants, particularly the Department of Labor’s Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program (HVRP). This grant helps to “assist in reintegrating homeless veterans into meaningful employment within the labor force and to stimulate the development of effective service delivery systems that will address the complex problems facing homeless veterans.”
Walsh has also overseen a grant from the Newman’s Own Foundation which paid for 20 laptops that women could use to study courses online.
“Basically, my mission is to offer hope,” she said. “Because once you have that, anything is possible.”
The next BFF meeting will be a Networking Luncheon & Holiday Shopping Extravaganza. It will be held Dec. 16 starting at 11 a.m. at the Marriott Courtyard Marlborough, 75 Felton St., Marlborough. To register or for more information visit www.corridornine.org.