Suffolk County legislators are expected to vote Tuesday on a bill to create a women veterans advisory board, which supporters said will give female veterans a greater voice in addressing their needs.
The proposed panel would advocate on behalf of female veterans in Suffolk, making recommendations to county legislators on policy, laws and programming. The 11 board members would be from all military service branches.
Legis. Susan Berland (D-Dix Hills), co-sponsor of the legislation, noted that many veterans organizations — including the legislature’s veterans advisory board — are male-dominated, and said the new board would provide female veterans with “a protected space” in which to discuss issues.
“This is an avenue where we can work together in a group of high-powered, amazing women who served our country and who can tell us what our county can do to help them,” Berland said.
Master Sgt. Magdolna Resker, who instructs at the Marines Corps Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps in Lindenhurst -- the first and only female-run Marine JROTC in the nation — said she hopes the advisory board will increase awareness of female veterans.
“The male veteran is easily recognized,” Resker said. “Women are silent. They blend in.”
Suffolk County is home to the largest veterans population in the state, according to the Suffolk Veterans Service Agency. Women were about 6 percent of the 66,687 veterans in Suffolk in 2016, according to the latest figures available from the U.S. Census Bureau. Women make up about 16 percent of all active-duty service members, according to the Department of Defense.
Female veterans said they face different issues than male veterans, especially in health care. They described limited access to psychological services and difficulty in getting doctors to take their health concerns seriously. They said they want gynecologists available at local VA clinics so they do not have to travel to the VA hospital in Northport for an appointment.
“It was like I came back to a world designed for male veterans and their needs,” U.S. Navy veteran Cathie Norton Dougherty, of Patchogue, told legislators at a June 4 general meeting.
StacyAnn Castro, president of the Long Island chapter of the Women Marines Association, said female veterans “don’t know where to go for help.”
“They don’t know what services are available, and even more, they’re afraid to go because no one will believe that they served in the military,” Castro, a lance corporal, told legislators June 4.
Kimicoe Grace spent nearly 19 years in the U.S. Army and was deployed to Iraq and Bosnia. The former sergeant said when she wears a hat from her service, people assume it's her husband’s. Or they dismiss her, assuming, “You didn’t do anything important; you’re just a girl,” Grace said.
Christine Glynn, who was a uniformed victims’ advocate in the Marines, said female veterans need psychological services specific to sexual trauma. Such treatment can help prevent other problems, including homelessness, substance abuse and suicide, said Glynn, a chief warrant officer who also works at the Lindenhurst JROTC.
About one in every 16 military women reported being sexually assaulted in the 2018 fiscal year, compared with less than 1 percent of men, according to an annual Defense Department report on sexual assault in the military.
Women are slightly more likely to leave the military without an honorable discharge, and a lot of those cases result from sexual trauma, said Thomas Ronayne, director of the Suffolk Veterans Services Agency. With some exceptions, veterans without honorable discharges cannot access VA health services, Ronayne said.