Women veterans decry lack of representation

D.C. official says more veteran voices are needed in government.

By Steff Thomas

Female veterans and allies gathered Wednesday to remind America that Veterans Day is not a man’s holiday – but one to honor all those who risked their lives for freedom.

Women Veterans Rock, an initiative to engage and empower women veterans, held its annual rally Wednesday at George Washington University. The rally was an opportunity for women to share their concerns.

“Women are not given a voice at all. There is a lot of trauma out there, and we need to take a closer look at that and listen to these women tell their stories,” said Army veteran Anita Cuyler. “It’s slowly getting better but not even close to where it needs to be.”

Courtesy of Councilmember Cheh's office Lt. Dr. Dana Robinson-Street and D.C. Council member Mary Cheh, D-Ward 3, spoke on behalf of women veterans Wednesday at the sixth annual Women Veterans Rock rally in Washington. Robinson-Street led the crowd with the theme songs of the different branches while Cheh gave the keynote address.

Courtesy of Councilmember Cheh’s office
Lt. Dr. Dana Robinson-Street and D.C. Council member Mary Cheh, D-Ward 3, spoke on behalf of women veterans Wednesday at the sixth annual Women Veterans Rock rally in Washington. Robinson-Street led the crowd with the theme songs of the different branches while Cheh gave the keynote address.

Cuyler, who retired from the Army in 1981 and the Army Reserves in 1984, said women are not given enough of a break when they come out of the military. “You are just thrown right back into the fire,” she said.

“I know a lot of soldiers in general come back with PTSD, and I remember coming back home” and feeling overwhelmed, said Army Sgt. Shalynn Jennings, from Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

These women came together with a common message – women need a stronger presence in both veterans affairs and the government.

D.C. Council member Mary Cheh, D-Ward 3, echoed their demands in her keynote speech Wednesday. She said women’s contributions to military history are often forgotten and overlooked.

Women in the military gain skills necessary in government including “an exceptional ability to lead a team, to problem solve, and to understand what it means to accept responsibility of the lives and well being of others,” Cheh said.

The government doesn’t prioritize veterans as much, in part because there are fewer veterans serving in Congress, said Cheh.

Women also said they were tired of being placed into categories.

Army veteran Cynthia Chandler worked as a supply operations officer, but said she always saw herself as a soldier first.

“If there was a conflict and we were being attacked, they weren’t going to say, ‘you’re just a supply clerk, you can sit down.’ No, they would be like, ‘get your weapon and let’s go,’” Chandler said.

Chandler said she was inspired by the Women Veterans Rock initiative because it aims to open people’s eyes to broader veterans’ issues.

“People really don’t seem to care about veterans at all anymore. Yes, we have the holiday and people are all like ‘thank you for your service’ but the next day, it all goes back to usual,” she said.

Councilmember Cheh said the only way to change the dynamic is to get involved in politics.

“With those critical decisions on hand made by the government for veterans, it’s time to have a more prominent veteran voice in the making of that policy,” Cheh said.