Female Veterans Battle for Benefits at Home
by Annie Sweeney
Dec 02, 2013
When Xatavia Hughes, the granddaughter of a military man, went to serve in Iraq, she was prepared to prove herself to the male soldiers.
"My grandfather was tough and strong. That is how I was brought up: 'Don't let it get to you. Show them,'" the 28-year-old mother of two said.
And she did. It was only after she returned from a war zone to Chicago in December 2010 that Hughes began to feel tested.
A month after returning, Hughes found herself in an improbable spot: living in a dorm room at the Pacific Garden Mission, the sprawling homeless shelter on the city's West Side, shielding her two sons from addicts and criminals.
"Often when I was in shelter there was a bunch of veterans," Hughes said of her six months of homelessness. "When we get out, I thought we were supposed to be taken care of. And I was like, 'Wow, this is how our life is going to be?' I never felt that I would do so much good and then have to be pushed aside."
Hughes was like so many women over the past decade who stepped up to serve as the country launched two wars. They saw it as a way to get ahead in life and forge a different future.
Women have become the fastest growing segment of the veteran population, a trend that is expected to continue. Their return has posed several new issues for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Many are single moms. They have been adversely affected by the scandal of military sexual trauma that affects one in five women who serve. They report higher rates of mental health illnesses and homelessness. Many don't feel comfortable in the male-dominated VA.
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