They feel invisible.
Eight women veterans talked about glass ceilings, sexual assault in the military, sexism and other inequities in a Camarillo roundtable Thursday.
They talked most of all about a society that doesn't always seem to get that an estimated 2 million women served the country, many in combat.
Mary Bandini, of Simi Valley, was in the Air Force, serving tours in Bosnia and Qatar. She was a machine-gunner.
When people see the bumper sticker that identifies her as a veteran, they run across a parking lot and offer their hand. To her husband. Who didn't serve.
“He says, 'You're talking to the wrong person,” she said. When people realize the woman is the vet, too often they turn around and walk away.
“It's happened so many times,” said Bandini, commander of VFW Post 10049 in Simi Valley.
The roundtable was hosted by U.S. Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Westlake Village. The women gathered included Josette Wingo of Camarillo. She's 92 and served in the Navy during World War II through a program called Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services.
Wingo wrote a book, “Mother Was A Gunner's Mate.” She's mother.
The veterans talked of the identity crisis created by a society that doesn't see them for who they are, despite their service. Because of that, women don't come forward as veterans and don't use — often don't know — of the services available in health care, colleges and elsewhere.
Danielle Hanne serves in the California National Guard and works for a organization called U.S. Veterans Initiative. She said federal and state organizations don't do enough to help people transition to civilian life.
“There's no bridge and there's supposed to be,” she said.
The women spoke about sexual assaults and whether investigations should be handled by the military or outside. One woman noted victims can seek help and treatment from the federal VA.
“How many women know that?” said Brownley who introduced legislation aimed at lowering the frightening rate of suicide among women veterans. That bill passed the House of Representatives last month.
Some women become isolated and lost in a “dark place” after assault and other trauma, Brownley said.
“God forbid they come home and we lose them,” she said.
They talked about networking with events that bring women together and connect them to veterans services. They talked about the need to tell their stories about service and civilian life.
Bandini tried to explain why people look at her and have a hard time seeing the machine-gunner.
“I think it's the ingrained gender biases that have been around for decades … forever,” she said.