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Women veterans: Where are they?

Erin Briscoe |

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - When you think of a veteran, typically the image of a man might come to mind. But according to the Disabled American Veterans, more women now than ever before are serving or have served in the military.

Denita Oyeka served in the U.S. Army from 1992 until 2007. "All I ever wanted to do was serve my country," said Oyeka.

But Oyeka's love for her country almost ended tragically. After serving multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, Oyeka’s convoy was ambushed.

"It propelled our vehicle Humvee onto another vehicle and I slammed into the steering column."

Oyeka said she broke multiple bones, was hit by shrapnel and suffered a traumatic brain injury. She was medically discharged and sent home to civilian life. A new world she said was foreign to her.

"At the time I was dealing with a lot of my injuries, I removed myself from other veterans and that only complicated things," said Oyeka.

All that changed after Oyeka found support from other female veterans in the community.

Today, Oyeka is one of four members of the Women Veterans Advisory Committee, appointed by the California Veterans Assistance Foundation's board of directors.

The committee is made up of women who have served in various branches of military. Jeannine Waits is an Air Force veteran and works for Kern County Veterans Services. She said the women saw the need for support in the community.

"If you talk to any veteran whose left the service, they will tell you that the biggest thing they miss is that comradery, that feeling of family, someone's got my back," said Waits. "I think our ultimate main goal is to continue that feeling for women who have left the service."

The mission for the group is to identify female vets in the community and link them with services, but Waits said they've run into a problem. They can't find a lot of these women.

"We've located and identified just through our committee approximately 135 female veterans in Kern County," said Waits.

That's out of approximately 5,000 female vets in the county, according to Waits.

"We did think it was going to be somewhat difficult, but we didn't realize it was going to be this hard to get female veterans out and about and recognizing their service," said Frank.

The committee held a stand-up for women last year and the event, ‘Walk a Mile in My Boots.’ Waits said the turnout was lower than expected. She said low turnout is a problem bigger than just Kern County.

"Nationwide it seems to be a problem as far as women veterans self-identifying as a veteran," said Waits. “As women we jump into these other roles and we're so filled with all those needs that come with those roles there's just no room for veteran anymore."

Frank said it's also a case of women minimizing their service.

"Sometime they see veterans who've come back and they're visibly wounded," said Frank. "There's a big highlight put on the male veterans."

In 2012-2013, women veterans made up only 5% of the total population served by county veteran services offices, according to The California Department of Veterans Services.

"Women are just busy and I think finding that time to really focus on ourselves and our needs and our relationship with others isn't always our top priority and I think that's one of the reasons we've had low numbers of participation," said Waits.

If anyone knows busy, it's Oyeka. She is a new mom to twins and works for the Department of Justice.

"I survived to be here for my family and also be a voice for veterans," Oyeka said.

It's a voice she said she hopes can provide a new outlook for other women in our community.

If you'd like to find out more about the Women Veterans Advisory Committee you can call (888) 805-2490.

Women Veterans