Women Veterans group helps female veteransOne Jamestown resident is involved with several veterans groups like the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans.
One Jamestown resident is involved with several veterans groups like the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans. But despite all those meetings and discussions, Ann Murchie said she usually hesitated to talk about one issue from her military service: sexual harassment.
Murchie, who has 27 years of military service and served in both Vietnam and Dessert Storm, remembers her time with the Air Force and Army Reserves.
“I can say that I was always respected by my soldiers,” she said.
But in typical veterans groups consisting of mostly men, Murchie said she wouldn’t have brought up the time she said she was sexually harassed.
Like Murchie, many women veterans may feel hesitant to share some of their military experiences, said Brenda Bergsrud, women and minorities veterans coordinator for the North Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs. Others may simply need more information about military benefits in regard to women. Benefits like monthly compensation for women veterans who lost breast tissue or benefits to children born of mothers who served in Vietnam and have certain types of birth defects.
So Bergsrud is encouraging women veterans in the area to attend the Women Veterans group meetings in Jamestown to discuss those issues as well as find camaraderie among fellow female soldiers. The group — which originated here about a year ago — meets once a month. At the most, five women have attended the meetings so far, but Bergsrud hopes to see more. Female veterans aren’t as likely to seek out their benefits or other services as their male counterparts, Bergsrud said.
“You were right alongside that male soldier and you deserve those benefits as much as they do,” she said.
About 4,600 of North Dakota’s 56,300 veterans are women, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Men make up about 51,700 of them. About 150 women veterans live in Stutsman County.
The role of the Womens Veterans group is to monitor administration of health care and benefits services as well as programs for women veterans. It serves as an advocate in recognizing contributions of women veterans and women in the military.
North Dakota created the position of women veterans coordinator in 2007 as part of a push to reach out to women veterans and provide more female-friendly services. One of those services is the opportunity to report sexual harassment or sexual assault to a woman instead of a man, Bergsrud said. Others might include advocacy and attention to details at VA clinics, Bergsrud said. Details like not having the woman face the door during a cervical screening, just in case someone would enter the room.
Reporting sexual harassment and sexual assault can be especially difficult for a woman when it’s her superior who allegedly committed the offense, Bergsrud said, although she’s quick to point out that sexual offenses aren’t common and men can be victims too.
Many of the issues veterans face are similar for men and women, Murchie said, like what it’s like to serve. Murchie said she still gets jumpy when balloons pop, and after Desert Storm, she gave up hunting because she doesn’t want to kill anything.
“Unless people have been there, they do not understand,” she said.
Women, however, sometimes struggle to find a fellow female to share those experiences. Murchie said she doesn’t know many women in the area who are veterans like her.
“Women don’t have anyone to talk about it. Usually, we’re scattered,” she said.
The Women Veterans group in Jamestown meets at 6:30 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month at the Stutsman County Courthouse. Its next meeting is Dec. 15.
Sun reporter Katie Ryan-Anderson can be reached at 701-952-8454 or by email at email@example.com