Mary Bandini said it’s not uncommon for complete strangers to approach her and her husband when they see the U.S. Air Force sticker on the back of her car.
It is also not uncommon, she said, for those same people to drive her to “tears of fury” by belittling or dismissing her service to her country because she’s a woman.
Bandini was a staff sergeant in the security forces division of the U.S. Air Force for six years.
“People will come running up to him, across the parking lot, to reach out and shake his hand,” she said. “And he says, ‘You’re talking to the wrong person. I didn’t serve. She did,’ and they look at me and go, ‘Oh, OK,’ and turn around and walk away.”
Bandini, the commander of VFW Post 10049 in Simi Valley, said such exchanges are part of a much larger and more complicated issue. M any female service members do not think of themselves as veterans and, as a result, do not seek—or know—the services and resources available to them. Additionally, many Americans fail to recognize women for their sacrifices.
“We have an identity crisis as female veterans,” Bandini said. “I think sometimes it’s something that we have gotten used to, something that has just been pounded into our entire existence within the framework of the military.”
That identity crisis was one of many topics discussed during a roundtable discussion led by U.S. Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Thousand Oaks) at the Camarillo Public Library last week.
Female veterans and other stakeholders sat down with the congresswoman March 10 to discuss the unique experiences they’ve faced returning to civilian life and accessing VA healthcare and other benefits.
Her bill to require the VA to identify mental health and suicide prevention programs most effective for female veterans has been passed by the House of Representatives.
The congresswoman said she wanted input from female veterans so she could create better policies.
Eight women, excluding Brownley and her staff, were present at the roundtable discussion.
Some of the women discussed the many sexual assaults that occur in the military and the response to such traumas.
Shawn Terris, a former U.S. Marine Corps captain, spoke of the “inherent sexism” toward women in the armed forces and said sexual assault crimes should be handled outside the military.
Another speaker said the military has come a long way in creating safe ways for women to report sex crimes.
Another topic of discussion was the need for female veterans to connect with each other.
Jenn Zimmerman, a veterans coordinator California Lutheran University, said there is a lack of camaraderie among women who have served in the military.
She also commented on how difficult it was for her to find the resources that were available to her when she returned to civilian life and needed to find housing.
“(There has) got to be that bridge,” she said. “That bridge doesn’t exist.” M any speakers agreed that helping women find their voices as veterans will help them in their lives after the military.
“I think . . . the conversation needs to be, how do we first address the identity crisis?” Bandini said. “I think if we can do that . . . then more women will feel comfortable in seeking services, seeking support, reaching across the table, asking for help because they won’t feel alone.”
The meeting ended with tentative plans to hold an expo that highlights female veterans.