On Women Veterans Day, we honor their service and seek to understand the challenges they face

In Texas, there is no shortage of love for military veterans, but last year the state decided to take a step back and designate June 12 as a special day to pay tribute to a group of veterans too often overlooked: Women.

It should be no secret that women play an integral role in our nation’s armed forces. So we are delighted at the opportunity to honor them, and we are mindful of the fact that to do so we must also understand the unique challenges they face.

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As in seemingly everything else, the population of women veterans is bigger in Texas than anywhere else. Of the 2 million women veterans in the country, approximately 180,000 live in the state.

For the honor of volunteering to serve, women have faced down many obstacles. In years past, they were locked out of serving in combat roles. But they became drill instructors and started flying combat planes as early as 1993. The ban on women in combat was broadly lifted by the Defense Department in 2013. As of April this year, 12 women have graduated the Army Ranger School.

One challenge women consistently face is the risk of sexual assault. While the numbers continue to decline, 4.3 percent of women in the military reported being sexually assaulted in 2016. And that’s likely a significant undercount. That same year, the military estimated 68 percent of sexual assaults went unreported. What’s more, nearly 60 percent of women experienced a backlash in their unit when they reported a sexual assault.

After the military, women face additional hurdles. Female veterans are three to four times more likely than their civilian counterparts to become homeless and 2.5 times more likely to commit suicide.

As with their male counterparts, women veterans often have trouble finding a civilian job. VR Small, a six-year Navy veteran and founder of the Veteran Women’s Enterprise Center in Dallas, repeated what we’ve heard elsewhere: Employers have difficulty identifying transferable skills on resumes. “Some veteran women have the necessary skills, but have trouble getting an interview, let alone a job,” she said.

Yet, despite all of this, the number of women in the ranks has grown. In 1973, with the end of the draft and the advent of the all-volunteer force, women made up just 2 percent of enlisted forces and 8 percent of the officer corps. Today, those figures are 16 percent and 18 percent, respectively.

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We owe all of our veterans our gratitude and respect. But on this Women Veterans Day in Texas, take a minute to get to know the women veterans among us. They volunteer for the same reasons as men, but their service can come at a steep personal price. The least we can do in return is to understand and honor their service.

— The Dallas Morning News