Jacksonville military veterans want more services tailored for female vets. That’s what a group of them told U.S. Rep. Al Lawson (D-FL5) at a town hall Thursday morning.
The Northeast Florida Democratic congressman started his morning touring a Jacksonville veterans’ housing complex on Beaver Street before the roundtable discussion downstairs.
The Beaver Street Veterans Villas house up to 16 formerly homeless male veterans. But at the roundtable discussion, many women came with concerns about the lack of services for them.
Female vets make up about 11 percent of Duval’s veteran population, and Duval County is home to the largest number of them in Florida
Former Marine Hellena Pugh saw such a great need that she founded a nonprofit, Zahara Veterans Network Inc., dedicated to assisting other ladies who served. She said she came to the forum to ask Lawson what he’ll do to hold organizations that claim they help veterans accountable.
“We know female veterans are the fastest-growing population within the veteran community,” Pugh said. “How do we help them with homelessness? Especially because most of the programs are geared toward homeless male veterans, but female veterans, when they’re homeless, they sometimes have children.”
Other women echoed Pugh’s comments, saying money for veterans is often funneled into programs that assist mainly men.
CEO of the Northeast Florida Women Veterans organization, Dee Quaranta, said some female vets are dealing with sexual abuse and gender discrimination.
During the discussion, Clara White Mission CEO Ju’Coby Pittman said her organization is in the process of opening a veterans’ housing complex for women a few blocks from Veterans Villas.
“It will house at least six women,” she said. “It’s a start.”
Lawson said one of his priorities is to assist and incentivize veterans who want to become business owners, particularly women, which he said are part of the fasting-growing group of small business owners in America.
“We want to make sure we remove a lot of the obstacles that stand in the way of women-owned businesses,” Lawson said.
Other concerns that came up at the forum were access to healthcare and mental health services and bureaucracy in Veterans Affairs services.
Lawson said he wants to make sure America keeps its promise to veterans.
“Politicians have made so many promises during campaigns about what we’re going to do to help our veterans, and it never really happens, so the veterans are never satisfied,” Lawson said. “My mission is to make sure that we change that.”