Alaska has one of highest numbers of female veterans out of any state: around 10,000 women who have served in the military. But unlike the men who have served, few women are signed up for the services that the federal government provides for veterans. Operation Mary Louise, named after the former head of the Women’s Army Corps or WAC, is trying to change that.
“Alaska has the highest percentage per capita of women veterans in the country, tied with Virginia. But less than a third are using [Veterans Affairs] services,” said Vanessa Meade, a former paratrooper.
Meade is working with a group of organizations, including the Rasmuson Foundation and The Alaska Community Foundation, to get the word out and increase the number of women who sign up with the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs. Meade said that many women just don’t think of themselves as vets.
The number of Alaska Native women who have served in the military is less certain. Meade said that they do have an estimate.
“Right now, the latest estimate I saw is there are over 300 women vets out in rural Alaska and, well actually in villages, Alaska Native women vets,” said Meade.
Though the number of women in the military is growing, they only account for 10% of the total force. Statistics indicate that those who do come out of the military have a tougher time finding their way in civilian society than male vets. Proportionately, more women veterans end up homeless on the streets than males, have higher rates of sexual assault, and are more likely to commit suicide.
Operation Mary Louise is designed to help Alaska women who have served in the military get both the services they need, and the recognition that they deserve.
To find out more, go to operationmarylouise.org. The full Coffee at KYUK interview with Vanessa Meade can be heard on KYUK’s website.