Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with more than twenty veterans and military groups in order to discuss a large range of topics from the upcoming 2014 budget to transition assistance to veterans employment to mental health issues among the troops. Unfortunately, Hagel left out one important group of veterans- women.
Secretary Hagel met with representatives from the “Air Force Association, the American Legion, AMVETS, the Armed Services YMCA, the Association of the United States Army, Blue Star Families, Disabled American Veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Marine Corps League, the Military Child Education Coalition, the Military Officers Association of America, the National Military Family Association, the Navy League, Operation Homefront, the Reserve Officers Association, the Student Veterans of America, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), the USO, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, the Vietnam Veterans of America, Wounded Warrior Project, Fisher House Foundation, Inc., and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (Hiring Heroes Program),” according to SWAN, but ignored women service members.
Also not included in the meeting appears to be OutServe-SLDN, the largest LGBTQ organization. To date, more than 280,000 service women have been deployed in support of US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the most difficult issues for women is military sexual assault, which was recently spotlighted in Congressional hearings.
Former Marine Captain Anu Bhagwati, the director of Service Women’s Action Network, stated “Women’s extraordinary service in Iraq and Afghanistan and the crippling effects of sexual violence on our military community are two obvious reasons women’s organizations should have been invited to meet with the Secretary of Defense today. Women make up fifteen percent of our nation’s Armed Forces and are the fastest growing population within the veterans’ community – we deserve a seat at the table. It is an embarrassment that no one thought to invite us.”