CARLSBAD — Take a moment and picture a veteran. What did that veteran look like? Was it a woman?
Currently, about 20% of the military is made up of women, a number that has grown significantly over the last several decades. Women also make up the fastest-growing segment of veterans.
As more and more women fill a role viewed as non-traditional for so long, the role is beginning to become more traditional, according to Jodie Grenier, chief executive officer for the Foundation for Women Warriors.
The foundation first started in 1920 with roots in Los Angeles as an organization that helped widows and mothers of fallen service members. Years later, the organization began serving women veterans.
Grenier began working for the organization in 2016. With her brought much change for the foundation, including a name change. Previously the organization was known as Military Women in Need.
“When answering the phone, we’d say, ‘Hi, I’m a veteran in need,’” Grenier said. “That was counterintuitive to being a Marine.”
Grenier served in the Marine Corps during the Invasion of Iraq. She deployed twice to the country before leaving the military in 2005.
“When you’re a soldier you are brought up to have pride,” Grenier said. “It’s not that you’re absent of pride if you ask for help, but it sounded so destitute.”
Grenier also looked at how the organization was talking about veterans and if it were victimizing the very people it was trying to help. She also helped to bring more focus to San Diego County, which has about the same amount of women veterans as Los Angeles but more women transitioning directly out of the military.
In 2018, the foundation opened an office in Carlsbad, where Grenier mostly works.
Patricia Jackson-Kelley, a board member for the foundation and a veteran of the Air Force, Army and Navy, said Grenier has been awesome for the organization.
“She’s one of the most dynamic, dedicated women veterans that I have met in my lifetime,” Jackson-Kelley said. “I cannot say enough about her as far as how she has taken us from a place of mediocrity to a place of excellence.”
Transitioning out of the military is hard for any veteran, man or woman, but some of the challenges are a little different.
“Most of the time it’s because we have children,” Jackson-Kelley said, which can add more complications to finding employment and housing for veterans.
According to Grenier, about 70% of the women the organization serves are mothers, and about 69% of those women are single mothers.
While women are the fastest-growing segment of veterans, they are also the fastest-growing segment of homeless veterans. Two programs the foundation provides to help prevent homelessness and improve family stability are its Warrior Assistance program, which provides a stipend for rent, utilities, car repairs and the like, and its childcare assistance program.
Grenier pointed out that while many families have the means to worry about going to places like Aspen over the winter break, many women veterans are worried about who is going to take care of their kids while they still have to work. Childcare can be expensive, and many veterans don’t live near family.
“Grandma and grandpa aren’t down the road,” Grenier said.
The foundation provides stipends during winter and summer breaks between school to help parents pay for licensed child care and day camps.
To get these stipends, veterans must be working or in school, and if they aren’t in either they must begin working with a partnered nonprofit agency.
“We’re not a charity — you’re in investment,” Grenier said of the veterans the foundation serves. “You’ve already invested in our country; we’re going to invest in the life that you fought for.”
The foundation also provides resources and referrals to any of its 800 partner organizations for things like mental health.
According to Grenier, suicide rates have increased amongst women veterans by 62.4% in the past 13 years. That statistic worries Grenier, who noted women veterans are generally doing better in most areas when compared to civilian women except when it comes to suicide.
“Women veterans are two and a half times more likely to kill themselves than those who haven’t served,” Grenier said.
The foundation hosts professional development workshops to help women connect with their community.
“Women veterans report that they are not seen as real veterans and that they don’t feel as connected to their local communities,” Grenier said.
The foundation also brings in speakers to help encourage women to start negotiating salaries.
Though statistics can help paint a picture of what issues are out there for women veterans, Grenier doesn’t want those statistics to perpetuate a narrative that veterans are broken people.
In the Marines, there is often talk about a brotherhood amongst the male soldiers, but that narrative tends to exclude women. With the foundation, Grenier hopes to create a sisterhood for women veterans, something that many didn’t have while serving.
The foundation itself has come a long way since its origins nearly 100 years ago.
“When I think about the organization, I think about the history of women we represent,” Grenier said. “We went from serving widows because they didn’t have the means to take care of themselves to now serving women veterans who are part of the same population, but they’ve now inserted themselves into non-traditional roles.”