Neglected at Home After Serving Abroad: The Story of Black Women Veterans

Black women suffer disproportionately to both Black men and white women from the effects of America’s poor support of our veteran population. Black women are subjected to prolonged mistreatment while in the armed forces, and the effects of the sexual harassment/assault epidemic are felt more by Black female veterans. Upon discharge, Black women suffer a disproportionate incidence of Military Sexual Trauma, and the lack of effective resources to aid their transition to civilian status has contributed to their high presence in the homeless population.

Military service purportedly offers the benefits of job training, funding for higher education, and access to a steady middle-class career with excellent benefits. In recent years, Black women have been enlisting in the US military at higher rates than any other demographic, and Black women currently represent nearly a third of all women in the armed forces. Yet military culture uniquely harms Black women in myriad ways. For instance, the military recently banned certain hairstyles disproportionately favored by Black women.

Even more concerning is the rate of sexual violence Black women are subject to in the army. 43 percent of African-American veterans suffer from PTSD, and one in three women in the armed forces is sexually assaulted at some point during her service; nearly twice the rate of the civilian population. Black women generally hold lower ranks than their white male or female counterparts despite having more years of service. This power imbalance causes Black women to experience sexual harassment and assault at a disproportionate rate.

Join us for a conversation where we explore the under-discussed marginalization and abuse of Black women who serve and protect our country.


Anu Bhagwati
Former Marine Corps Captain and the founder of Service Women’s Action Network


Marcel Edwards, Social Worker and Former U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant


Carolyn West
Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Washington


Moderated by Janine Jackson
Program Director, FAIR


What You Can Do To Help

Building the Capacity to Create Change

Know the issue. Understand the political environment:

Prepare yourself to be an Advocate:

  • Contact your state's Veterans Affairs office and ask about the existence of the following. If they're not active on these items, ask why and share back with your community to inform and mobilize towards change:
    • Training of staff at VA women’s centers and clinics on how to work with Black women veterans specifically and how to be sensitive to their needs.
    • Culturally competent gender-responsive services to address racialized sexual harassment.
    • Policy reforms to improve the gaps in benefits and care provision for returning veterans

Share Online:

  • Look to our 2016 social media guide to get ideas for sharing across platforms.
  • Are you a Black women who served in the military? Share your story as part of the Herstory campaign.
  • Use the hashtags #HerDreamDeferred and #WhyWeCantWait to connect with us on twitter to share your story, uplift others and respond to the discussion with questions or thoughts.

Surround yourself with resources to learn and share:

  • The National Association of Black Military Women

  • “Herstory” campaign“mission to seek out, record and tell the history of Black Military Women. If you are a Black Military Woman who is serving or if you know a Black Military Woman who has served and passed on, we need “YOUR or THEIR STORY”.”
  • Article from Colorlines: “Female Veterans Are Fastest Growing Segment of Homeless Population: Black females disproportionately affected”
  • Huffington Post article: “Why Do Black Women Have to Look Like White Women to Serve Their Country?”
  • Learn about the death of LaVena Johnson
    • Read this article from The Source
    • Sign this petition on “It's Time to ACT Now! Claim Justice for PFC. LaVena Johnson”
    • Watch the trailer for The Silent Truth, a documentary on the story of LaVena Johnson’s death
  • Read this article from The Grio: “Black victim of sexual assault in the military speaks out”
  • Read this article from MinnPost, “'Back Home': Female veterans often find unwelcoming system, insensitive treatment”
  • Article from AlterNet
  • Article from Indian Country-Today Media Network, "Native American Women Warriors Celebrate Inauguration While Raising Awareness for Native Female Veterans"
  • A News21 demographic analysis shows that 17.4 percent of post-9/11 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans are women. More than a quarter of those women are black, almost twice the proportion found in the entire U.S. population. Yet, these same women are less likely to find a job than male veterans and more likely to be a single parent with children to support, interviews and records show.”