New initiative aims to support the growing number of women veterans in Santa Barbara County
When you picture our military veterans, how often do you picture a woman?
The current US veteran population includes 2 million women and that number is growing.
However, stories like that of veteran Kelli Diaz are all too common.
"So this was my first year as a veteran, and so when I saw another veteran, I was so happy. I was like, 'hey, let's have a discussion'. And immediately I was met with, 'whose wife are you? Why are you asking me these questions?'" she recalled.
Diaz – who is from Santa Maria, shared her experiences as part of the launch of a new initiative called She Raised Her Hand, which aims to provide opportunities for women veterans to find community, purpose and strength in their identities as veterans.
"When I let him know that I was nobody's wife, that I was actually a veteran of 23 years, he immediately felt humbled. And then later on he realized I had served three years longer than him...and I also outranked him," she shared.
"I'm hoping that women today don't experience those things, but women are sharing their stories that still today these types of things are happening, which is why events like this - She Raised Her Hand - is so important," said Diaz.
Stephanie Crosby is the Director of Allan Hancock College Veteran Success Center – the college has partnered on the initiative - and she says current programs to support veterans’ transition to civilian life often fall short in meeting the needs of women vets.
"Women veterans are the largest growing population and veterans currently and expected to be served for the next ten years. And so we figure there's there's got to be a lot here that we don't capture in Santa Barbara County," said Crosby.
"We were not necessarily seeing women in all of the amazing veteran activities here in Santa Barbara County. And as a military community, we wanted to make sure that women step forward, and we provide them the opportunity to build community with other women veterans to empower themselves in that identity," she said.
US Army Veteran Andreas Cabanas – who also works at Hancock College – says that a lot of women veterans, like her, have a hard time acknowledging they are veterans.
"Because of the stigma involved with identifying as a woman veteran, a lot of women veterans miss out on those resources, so we want to bring them together along with the community to ensure that they get access to those, but also foster that community," said Cabanas.
She said that women have been overshadowed by their gender.
She Raised Her Hand hopes to be a significant step in recognizing the many remarkable women in Santa Barbara County who have served their country in the US Armed Forces.