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Homeless women veterans have long been a priority of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV). They are now becoming a national priority of the U.S. Veterans Administration, as evidenced by the Special Needs grant money targeting women veterans, available in a recent Notice of Funding Availability.
During the "Women Veterans and Their Special Needs" session at the NCHV conference on June 6th, Marsha Four of the Philadelphia Veterans Multi-Services and Education Center informed the crowd that women veterans currently comprise 15% of the active force, 20% of new recruits and 17% of guard/reserve troops. Women veterans number 1.7 million of the 24 million veterans living in the U.S. Additionally, 6% of identified homeless veterans are currently women and this number is only expected to increase. Military sexual trauma (MST) often plays a devastating role in the lives of women veterans, a staggering 40% of whom have already been victims of sexual trauma prior to their military service.

Although the number of homeless service programs capable of serving the special needs of women veterans is small, the NCHV session highlighted some effective programs. The Mary E. Walker House in Coatesville, PAis a 2-year transitional program that utilizes Seeking Safety as an approach to addressing trauma. At the Mary E. Walker House, women can safely access mental and medical health services, VA benefits assistance, life skills trainings, educational and job development opportunities, all within a recovery setting.

Dr. Miatta Snetter and Dr. Diane West then presented on the Renew program, which serves both homeless and non-homeless women veterans and is a collaborative effort between the U.S. Veterans Initiative - Long Beach and the Long Beach VA Medical Center. This innovative program treats women veterans who have experienced military sexual trauma - and often pre-military sexual trauma - via a comprehensive 12-week course.

Some 30-41 women from across the country comprise each class for the course, which includes groups such as Dealing with Feelings; Coping with Trauma; Improving Relationships; Self-care; Journaling; Relaxation; and Vocational Rehabilitation. In addition to group therapy, women in the program receive individual therapy and are treated through Holographic Reprocessing, developed by Dr. Lori Katz. HR is a “cognitive-experiential psychotherapy to treat trauma, broadly defined as an emotionally significant event including single episode, complex trauma, or maltreatment.” (Katz, 2005). This therapeutic approach allows women to safely revisit and reprocess their experiences of trauma. Promising outcomes from this approach show reduced posttraumatic negative thoughts.

The Renew program is just one example of a creative, innovative approach to developing and financing a holistic program addressing the special needs of women veterans. A general consensus at the NCHV conference was that more opportunities for understanding and implementing programs addressing these need will be increasingly necessary over the coming years.

Did You Know...

You may enroll and receive counseling and treatment for any emotional or physical conditions that were a result of sexual trauma suffered while on active duty. You will be treated without regard to your service-connected rating status or length of military service through December 31, 2004.

Military Sexual Trauma (MST) Eligibility: (Link:

For further information, contact any VA health care facility or Readjustment Counseling Center (Vet Center) in the continental United States.

Washington, D.C.