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VA, military must do better for women

After generations of foolish failure to understand the contributions women can make to national defense, the U.S. armed forces finally seem to have awakened to the previously untapped potential. Important issues regarding how females can serve the nation best in uniform may remain to be worked out, but the number of them is growing rapidly.

Women compose about 16% of the enlisted ranks of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. Their share of the officer corps is even higher, at about 18%. Within 25 years, nearly one in five living military veterans will be women, it has been estimated.

Challenges they face while serving and in retirement differ from those with which men must cope, for both obvious and subtle reasons. Sometimes, the Defense Department and Veterans Affairs agency are slow to react to that.

That has led a powerful group of veterans — women who have been elected to Congress –to form a new support group on Capitol Hill. It is the Congressional Servicewomen & Women Veterans Caucus. In addition to the female lawmakers, more than four dozen men have signed up for the caucus.

Four members of the House of Representatives and three of the U.S. Senate are female veterans. Though they have considerable clout individually, the new caucus should give them even more power to get things done in Washington.

And things need to get done. In some ways, our high-tech military is notoriously slow to adapt to change.

U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pennsylvania, pointed out one need. She left the Air Force in 1991 because she and her husband could not afford to pay for child care. One might suppose helping military personnel deal with that challenge would be obvious at the Pentagon. But, as Houlahan told The Associated Press, “What I’ve learned nearly 30 years later is that it hasn’t changed.”

Issues ranging from how the military deals with sexual assault to how well the VA assists female veterans with health care need to be addressed. Here’s hoping the new caucus can fight and win those battles.

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