Helping fellow vets
Linda Meyer takes her last flight in the C-5 Galaxy before retiring from the U.S. Air Force. Now, she’s completing her master’s in social work, specializing in treating military members. She’s one of many Coastside veterans to make the transition back to civilian life. Photo courtesy James Brown

Next Wednesday, the San Mateo County Human Services Agency will partner with Supervisor Warren Slocum’s office and the San Mateo County Veterans Commission to host a summit with a focus on women of the military.

“We probably have more female veterans than we have ever had as a country,” Norman Aleman, County Veterans Services supervisor said.

“As a provider community, we’re realizing the strong commitment that our females had in the service, and it should be our strong commitment in the community to provide services to both men and women veterans … We want to make sure we’re here in the community to welcome them home, and make sure we fill the gaps for them, wherever they are.”

In September 2013, a county report indicated that about 10 percent of U.S. military members to serve after Sept. 11, 2001, were female. That number is expected to rise to 18 percent by 2040, and service providers want to make sure the needs of women veterans are met.

“They’re kind of a little different, even though we’re coming out of the same thing,” said El Granada resident Linda Meyer, who spent 24 years in the U.S. Air Force as a pilot before retiring from flying her C-5 Galaxy in 2013. Now, Meyer is pursuing her master’s in social work, specializing in serving military members.

“There’s a reluctance to get services. … You have that self-reliant aspect,” she said. “Know there are places out there, and don’t shy away from looking for them. (These veterans) have earned this. People want to support them.”

The San Mateo County Veterans Needs Assessment of 2014 found that women veterans tend to be younger, have higher levels of education and are more likely to have been officers than their male colleagues. Fewer are married when they serve, but are more likely to marry and divorce, and are more likely to have a service-connected disability, have experienced sexual trauma in the military and are less likely to access Veterans Affairs services for the support they need. County leaders hope to change that.

About 6 percent of San Mateo County’s veterans call the Coastside home, and a few have advice for finding resources when transitioning back to civilian life.

Tiffany Garcia, now an education and training manager at Moffett Federal Airfield, recommended an organization called Swords to Plowshares (www.swords-to-plowshares.org) as a place to start, as well as looking for resources at corporations when switching careers.

“Most major corporations have a veteran recruiter and have initiatives to hire more veterans. When contacting recruiters, veterans should know what job they would like to apply for and be able to articulate relatable experience that would qualify them for the job. They should get really good at being able to transfer their skills to civilian employers,” Garcia said, adding that Visa and Salesforce have resources just for veterans.

Brittany Walter, who will soon join patent litigation firm Sheppard Mullin as an attorney after graduating from law school, said that she was referred to the VA for education benefits to coordinate tuition assistance, and that she and her husband were able to use benefits and loans in order to purchase a home.

All three women agreed it’s crucial to seek out and build a network of people to reach out to in the veteran community and beyond.

Garcia suggested it might also be helpful for other community members to be aware of issues that many military families face, such as when partners deploy.

“All of a sudden, they’re thrown into a single parent situation,” she said.

There might not be someone to provide moral support over a cup of coffee, check in on them or help coordinate a last-minute pickup for a child, Garcia said.

“If the local community knew, maybe they would be more willing to reach out and support those neighbors who might be in their immediate community.”

Connect with county resources for veterans at hsa.smcgov.org/veterans.

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