Women military veterans get their due in a new photo exhibit.

I am invisible

Women military veterans get their due in a new photo exhibit.

MARIA CAROLINA GONZÁLEZ-PRATS was two days away from finishing the final phase of Army officer training when, on Sept. 11, 2001, hijacked planes crashed into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.

“There was a sudden realization that we would be going to war,” she says.

González-Prats deployed to Iraq 18 months later, where she led a platoon that provided mission critical supplies and logistical support to the 3rd Infantry Division. Supply units were frequent targets, and although hers never came under fire, “being responsible for the lives of 35 soldiers, many of them parents with small children, weighed heavily on me.”

A DOCTORAL STUDENT in PSU’s School of Social Work, González-Prats is one of 22 women veterans—six of whom are PSU students—featured in a photo exhibit titled “I Am Not Invisible,” a project of the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs (ODVA) and PSU’s Veterans Resource Center.

Felita Singleton, director of the PSU center, came up with the idea after repeatedly hearing women student veterans talk of feeling ignored and unappreciated for their military service. Elizabeth Estabrooks from ODVA made the exhibit possible and curated a debut showing at the Portland Art Museum.

Women comprise 9.6 percent of all armed services veterans in the United States. Yet they’re under-recognized and continue to face significant barriers in accessing health care and other services. About 22 percent of women who are active in the military have complained of sexual harassment, and in one year, 4.9 percent reported being sexually assaulted, according to a 2014 Rand Corporation study.

Photographer Sally Sheldon’s portraits depict the women as a powerful, energetic force. “I wanted to capture what all women have inside them: beauty, strength and courage,” she says.

The exhibit is displayed online at www.iani.oregondva.com, along with a schedule of showings (not all portraits included here)



Top image: Penny Akterpy, Army veteran, and Sarah Aktepy, Navy veteran, PSU doctoral student in sociology.

First row, left to right: H. Jean Wojnowski, Army veteran and WWII nurse; Renee E.A. Dick, Army veteran; Dayle Shulda Hite, Air Force veteran; Eileen Garlington, Navy veteran, PSU senior in arts and letters.

Second row, left to right: Jen Bell and Jen Sheetz, Navy veterans; Rosy Marcelino-Macias, Marine Corps veteran; Kim T. Gray, Coast Guard veteran; Victoria Huckaby, Navy veteran.

Third row, left to right: Jacqueline Caputi, Marine Corps veteran, PSU senior in international and global studies; Christina Ebersohl, Army veteran, PSU senior in music performance; Deborah Lynn Peterson, Navy veteran, PSU senior in social work; Maria Carolina González-Prats, Army veteran, PSU doctoral student in social work.

Fourth row, left to right: Carrie Allen, Navy veteran; Elizabeth Estabrooks, Army veteran; Kyleann Hunter, Marine Corps veteran; Mary Mayer, Air Force veteran.

Fifth row, left to right: Amber Stevens, Army veteran; Genai Trixster, Army veteran, and Desiree Coyote, Army veteran; Katie West, Air Force veteran.


8 Actions for March 8: Celebrate International Women’s Day With Us! | FMF Blog

8 Actions for March 8: Celebrate International Women’s Day With Us! | FMF Blog.

Women all over the world will celebrate International Women’s Day on Saturday, March 8, by taking action for their social, political, and economic equality. The United Nations’ official IWD theme for this year is “equality for women is progress for all,” and we couldn’t agree more! This International Women’s Day, celebrate with us by speaking out for women’s rights – eight times.

1. Tell your Senator: Support CEDAW!


CEDAW has been ratified by 187 of the 193 member states of the UN, the United States is one of only seven nations that has not yet approved it, putting us in the company of Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Iran and two small Pacific islands. As a leading advocate for human rights, the US has a compelling interest to improve conditions for women. Yet, the United Sates has compromised its credibility as a world leader in both human rights and women’s rights in its failure to ratify CEDAW.

Email Your Senator Now.

2. Tell President Obama: #LiftTheBan!


For many victims of war, resources provided by US humanitarian aid eases their suffering; but for victims of war rape care is limited. Survivors of war rape are denied access to comprehensive medical care that includes the option of abortion, largely because of US policy that is wrongly interpreted to place anti-abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid in conflict zones – in direct violation of international human rights and humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions. Girls and women systematically raped during conflict face increased rates of maternal mortality, permanent reproductive damage, and obstetric fistula, in addition to isolation and trauma. Without access to the option of abortion care, victims are forced to risk their health – either by carrying unwanted pregnancies to term, seeking dangerous methods of abortion or, in many tragic cases, taking their own lives.

Take action with Feminist Majority and the Global Justice Center to urge President Obama to issue an executive order lifting the ban on abortion restrictions in conflict zones, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.

Send A Message to President Obama Today.

3. Tell the Supreme Court: #MyBodyMyBC!


The Affordable Care Act guarantees that all new health insurance plans cover FDA approved contraceptives, including the pill and IUDs, without co-pays or deductibles.  But over 40 profit-making companies have filed lawsuits against this ACA requirement saying that they have a right to deny this coverage to their employees because of the companies’ so-called religious beliefs.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments March 25 regarding whether companies can take away this important birth control benefit from women. Send a clear message to the Supreme Court that companies should not be able to use religion as cover to discriminate against women. 

Sign The Open Letter Today.

4. And Show Up to Tell the SCOTUS: Let Women, Not Bosses, Decide!


Folks will be meeting on Tuesday, March 25 outside of the Supreme Court building to make their voices heard in this important debate – and you should be there! Come around 8:30 AM and bring your own signs!

RSVP Today.

5. Stand Shoulder-to-Shoulder With Afghan Women

Take a pledge with us to support Afghan women and Afghan women’s organizations. Let them know that we are proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them in the fight for women’s and girls’ equality. We will do all we can to ensure that the US continue to support Afghan women’s organizations and empowerment. In this crucial transition period, you can count on our strong support.

Take The Pledge.

6. Tell Afghan Leaders: Sign the Bilateral Security Agreement!

The BSA provides that the U.S. will continue to offer assistance to strengthen security, provide humanitarian aid, and support economic and civic development. But Afghan President Hamid Karzai has indicated that he will not sign the BSA until after the April 2014 elections – a decision that could potentially disrupt the relationship between the U.S. and Afghanistan and place Afghan women at grave risk.

Urge President Karzai to sign this agreement. Without this agreement, the tremendous gains made by Afghan women since the fall of the Taliban will be in jeopardy.

Send A Message to Afghan President Karzai Today.

7. Tell US Leaders: Integrate Reproductive Healthcare with HIV/AIDS Treatment!

Every minute, a young woman becomes newly infected with HIV, and the vast majority of HIV infections are sexually transmitted. Women need reproductive health programs to be integrated with HIV/AIDS services, and vice-versa, for improved efficiency and effectiveness in preventing AIDS infection and unplanned pregnancy and improving maternal and child health.

You can make a difference. Take action to urge decision makers to integrate comprehensive sexual and reproductive healthcare services with HIV/AIDS treatment for women globally.

Contact PEPFAR Leaders Now.

8. Help End Military Sexual Assault!

The Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA) S.1752, introduced by Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), will take the decision of whether to prosecute sexual assault cases out of the chain of command and give it to independent, objective, trained military prosecutors.  Reports of sexual assault in the military increased by a whopping 36% in fiscal year 2012. The vast majority of victims – 89 percent according to the Pentagon itself – do not report sex crimes at all. And one-half of female victims indicate not reporting sexual assault because they do not believe anything will be done by their commanders.

We must act now. Email your Senators to tell them that we must change the current system of handling sexual assault cases. It is simply not working.

Email Your Senator Today.


Military Sexual Assault Bill Expected To Come To Vote This Week


Military Sexual Assault Bill Expected To Come To Vote This Week

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA), which removes prosecution of sexually violent crimes in the military from the chain-of-command, is expected to come to a vote in the Senate this week.

The MJIA, which was previously part of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) but will now be voted on as a stand-alone measure as S. 1752 , would move “the decision whether to prosecute any crime punishable by one year or more in confinement to independent, trained, professional military prosecutors, with the exception of crimes that are uniquely military in nature.”

Military sexual assault has reached epidemic proportions. An estimated 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact and sexual assaults occurred in 2012, according to a report by the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program of the Department of Defense. 25 percent of women and 27 percent of men who experienced unwanted sexual contact said the offender was in their military chain of command, and 50 percent of female victims said that they did not report the crime because they thought nothing would come of their report.

“The men and women of our military deserve better,” Gillibrand told The Washington Post. “They deserve to have unbiased, trained military prosecutors reviewing their cases, and making decisions based solely on the merits of the evidence in a transparent way.” Gillibrand says she now has 53 Senators who have agreed to vote in the bill’s favor. She will need to have 60 to ensure it is not defeated by a filibuster.

The Obama administration has been taking other steps to prevent and reduce sexual assault in the military as well. Under the 2014 NDAA, an individual in the military who sexually assaults another will face dishonorable discharge, and commanders will not be able to overturn jury decisions. Legal assistance will be provided for victims, and retaliation against a victim will be punished. Obama also called for a year-long review of military sexual trauma and the steps being taken to reduce it in December.

TAKE ACTION: Help us take on military sexual assault in the military. Email your senators to tell them that we must change the current system of handling sexual assault cases.

Media Resources: The Washington Post 2/9/14; Politico 2/6/14; Gillibrand.senate.gov; Feminist Newswire 11/22/13, 12/23/13, 1/2/14;


Woman of Color Becomes Navy’s First Female Four-Star Admiral

On Friday, President Obama nominated Vice Admiral Michelle Howard to be the vice chief of naval operations. If confirmed, Howard will not only be the first woman to become a full admiral, but will also be the first woman and the first African-American to hold the Navy\’s number 2 position.

This isn\’t Howard\’s first time breaking the glass ceiling. She was the first African-American woman to command a U.S. Navy warship, as well as the first to command an expeditionary strike group at sea. She was also the first female Naval Academy graduate to become a rear-admiral.

Howard herself has spoken out on being a minority woman commanding a warship. As she told Time:

For some of the sailors, it was a big deal—not because of the woman thing, but because of the African-American thing. I literally had people coming up, wanting to have their picture taken with me—this is the first time this has happened, where a minority woman has had command of a ship.

She also praised the Navy for prizing meritocracy over racial or gender preference: \”What\’s great about the Navy is that, despite the few knuckleheads that exist, there are a lot of folks who are professional and who will grade you on your performance and not on how you look.\”

The Navy finally joins the Army and the Air Force in appointing female four-star officers. Here\’s hoping that Howard\’s nomination means broken barriers for other women in the armed forces.

Image via Getty.

via Woman of Color Becomes Navy's First Female Four-Star Admiral.

Feminist Daily News 11/13/2013: Military Sexual Assault Victims Barred from Essential Disability Benefits

Feminist Daily News 11/13/2013: Military Sexual Assault Victims Barred from Essential Disability Benefits.

A new report (Battle for Benefits, VA Discrimination Against Survivors of
Military Sexual Trauma by the ACLU, the Service Women’s Action Network, and the Veterans Legal Service Clinic at Yale Law School, https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/assets/lib13-mst-report-11062013.pdf) alleges that the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) discriminates against thousands of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) survivors seeking mental health disability benefits.

While the VA has a vested interest in ensuring that those seeking disability benefits have a condition caused by their time in the military, members who are seeking benefits for PTSD related to combat or other sources of trauma are taken at their word. According to the report, the VA scrutinizes claims made by sexual assault victims more intently, even when they provide the kind of documentation their counterparts are not required to.

“Under the current regulations, survivors of military sexual trauma have to provide a decent amount of documentation in order to get a compensation pension exam, as part of the benefits process,” explained Rose Carmen Goldberg, one of the authors of the report. Structural barriers to justice, like the ability of commanding officers to single-handedly vacate guilty verdicts, and a culture of skepticism, means many sexual assault victims don’t report their trauma, making providing the documentation the VA requests almost impossible.

Even though women who experience sexual assault in the military are nine times more likely to develop PTSD than their male counterparts, in 2011 the VA granted 74.2 percent of non-MST trauma claims and only 44.6 percent of MST claims. “The mental health effects of PTSD related to sexual trauma can make it very difficult if not impossible to work, so in many cases [disability benefits] will be their only source of income,” said Goldberg.

Media Resources: ACLU 11/2013; The Nation 11/11/13; Feminist News 11/7/13; Feminist News 7/25/13; The Nation 3/26/13

The Forgotten 14% — Our Female Vets | Martha Burk

The Forgotten 14% — Our Female Vets | Martha Burk.

Martha Burk
Martha BurkMoney Editor, Ms. magazine; director, Corporate Accountability Project, National Council of Women’s Organizations

When Veterans Day was started in 1918 as a way to honor World War I vets, it was originally called Armistice Day. Back then, even though women served in the military, they weren’t officially recognized as veterans and given veterans benefits (that wouldn’t happen for another quarter century). Times have obviously changed. Today, women serve in all branches of the armed forces, and constitute 14 percent of the veteran population.

Most people would agree that how we treat our vets is a measure of our character as a country. We do pretty well in some areas, but fall down in others. Homelessness is one of the worst. It’s way too high for both male and female vets — and this is one place where women are catching up to men. Men constitute 86 percent of active duty forces, and make up 90 percent of the homeless veteran population. For women, the numbers are 14 percent and 10 percent respectively.

But the reasons are different.

Substance abuse and mental illness are leading causes for male returnees. Women can suffer from those too, and they also face barriers like a harder time finding a job and/or VA supported family housing. But unlike the men, homelessness for our female ex-soldiers actually takes root before they leave the military. Experts agree that a huge contributing factor is sexual trauma from rapes and other assaults during their service. Because they couldn’t report the crimes, or were punished when they did, many women suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and lose their jobs, families, and ultimately their homes.

Though 26,000 sexual assaults occurred 2012-06-12-yourvoicesmallest2.JPGlast year, only 3,374 were officially reported, and a miniscule 300 were prosecuted. According to the Defense Department, reports are up over 50 percent in the first three quarters of this year.

One reason the great majority of sexual assaults are not reported — or the victims instead of the perpetrators are punished — is the military chain of command. Victims must report crimes to those who oversee their careers, and commanders have final say over whether criminal charges are brought in military courts. That means all too often attackers get off with a slap on the wrist, or the “she wanted it” defense is accepted. Even if they’re convicted, the boss can overturn the jury verdict with the stroke of a pen.

A bill sponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY and supported by women’s groups would put military prosecutors in charge, instead of commanders. The military, aided by their lap dogs on the Armed Services Committee, is backing a weaker bill sponsored by Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO). That one would do away with the ability to overturn jury verdicts and mandate dishonorable discharge or dismissal for those convicted, but otherwise keep the good ol’ boy chain of command in place for deciding who gets prosecuted in the first place.

Right now the brass is winning the argument. Gillibrand’s bill is 13 short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster, even though all of the Democratic women except McCaskill and two of the four Republican female senators have signed on.

Meanwhile, too many of our female vets are falling into homelessness. How many more will sleep in shelters or the streets until justice is served?