Women veterans have been struggling disproportionately in transitioning back into civilian life, especially the civilian workforce. The current unemployment rate for women who have served since 9/11 is 11.4 percent, while that same rate for male veterans is 4.5 percent. Additionally, women vets have a lower workforce participation rate – according to the BLS, 61.9 percent of female veterans are in the labor force while that same number is 81.6 percent for men. This means that the unemployment rate for women veterans doesn’t even count those women who have been so discouraged that they have dropped out of the labor force entirely. Part of the problem is that skills learned while in training or in the service don’t necessarily translate well to civilian workplace lingo. Entrepreneurship businesses can be a viable alternative.
Although the VA and the SBA offer many resources for veteran entrepreneurs as a whole, it is important to develop programs that target specifically women. Women veterans often either don’t self-identify as veterans or do not think they fit into VA programs. Because veterans have been overwhelmingly male in the past, many of the programs designed to help veterans do not serve the specific needs of women veterans. For example, a third of VA clinics don’t even have gynecologists on staff. 31 percent of VA clinics lack the resources to provide treatment for sexual assault despite the fact that approximately 1 in 4 women report having experienced military sexual trauma (note that this is only the reported statistic.  Women make up 15 percent of today’s active duty military, 20 percent of reservists, and 20 percent of new recruits. Women are 16 percent of the current veteran population. Despite this rapid and significant rise in the number of women veterans, VA programs have not changed to reflect this changing demographic. One female veteran responded in a survey, “I feel ignored, dismissed, disenfranchised everywhere… everywhere I look it’s all about male vets.” Given this pervasive sense of disenchantment with programs currently offered, it is imperative to build programs and services specifically for women veterans.
The SBA’s Office of Veterans Business Development (OVBD) has recently funded a program with Syracuse’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE). V-WISE is a three-phase program that targets women vets and military spouses. It provides instruction in all the skills necessary to starting a business, a conference to enable women to meet with experts and attend classes, and a strong network of mentors and supporters for women veterans to help other women veterans. Since 2011, 1500 women have completed V-WISE.
Another prominent growth initiative for women veteran-owned businesses is the Women Veteran Entrepreneur Corps (WVEC), established by Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence in conjunction with Capital One. WVEC is a three-year program that provides both the tools to build and grow a business and the necessary support network. This program is also open to spouses and daughter of veterans in addition to women veterans.
The Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs has also started a new initiative to help female vetrepreneurs in conjunction with the Women’s Business Development Center. They have put together a Women Vetrepreneurship Program which combines business development training from WBDC, networking and mentoring between women veterans, and free childcare services for participants.
The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) hosts an annual conference for Women as Veteran Entrepreneurs (WAVE) specifically to help connect women veteran entrepreneurs with each other. WAVE also creates opportunities for women veteran entrepreneurs to get into government contracting.
Although these are just four programs, their positive impacts are undeniable. Laurie Sayles-Artis, a former Marine and President and CEO of a government contracting service, testified in a Senate Small Business Committee hearing about her experiences with V-WISE. She noted that women veterans are unlikely to self-identify as women veterans, especially for those that have not served active duty abroad. She also explained that V-WISE has been instrumental for women veterans forming a professional, social, and supportive network of people who understand their collective experiences. However, she made the distinction that although V-WISE targets military wives as well as women veterans, those two groups are distinct. It was especially important to her that this distinction be made in the arena of business development because women veterans do have a fundamentally different skill set than military wives.
In July 2015, the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee unanimously passed the Veterans Entrepreneurial Transaction Act of 2015 (VET Act) out of committee. This piece of legislation would give veterans access to resources provided by the SBA and their G.I. Bill benefit. Only half of eligible veterans actually use the G.I. Bill to pursue higher education. The VET Act would establish an intensive three-year incubator program to enable 250 G.I. Bill eligible veterans to start a new business and transition more seamlessly into the civilian workforce. If this act passes, which is positively anticipated given the overwhelming support for veterans, it will have a tremendous positive impact on the ability for veterans to become entrepreneurs. It is incredibly important that women veterans realize that programs like these are for them as well. They have served our country as well, they qualify for these benefits, and they should take full advantage of them.
As the number of female veterans continues to increase, it is critical that our programs target this changing demographic. Increasing awareness of existing programs, making those programs more welcoming to women, and developing new programs entirely can help empower women veteran entrepreneurs. Programs like V-WISE have already started facilitating the growth of women veteran owned businesses. The number of women veteran business owners has expanded rapidly. In 2008, only 2.5% of veteran business owners were women; as of 2012, that number was up to 4.4%. We should continue to support the growth of women veteran owned businesses and to empower our women veterans across the board.
 “Economic News Release,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, July 2, 2015, accessed August 4, 2015.
 Leo Shane III, “Survey: Women Struggle to Be Seen as ‘Real’ Veterans,” MilitaryTimes, June 9, 2015, accessed August 4, 2015.
 Jourdain Carney, “Does the VA Have a Women Veterans Problem?” National Journal, October 27, 2014, accessed August 4, 2015.
 Emily Wax-Thibodeaux, “Female Veterans Battling PTSD From Sexual Trauma Fight for Redress,” The Washington Post, December 25, 2014, accessed August 4, 2015.
 Molly Blake, “Motivating Women Vets to Start Businesses,” Entrepreneur, July 12, 2014, accessed August 5, 2015.
 Kim Parker and Eileen Patten, “Women in the U.S. Military: Growing Share, Distinctive Profile,” Pew Research Center, December 22, 2011, accessed August 4, 2015.
 Amanda Terkel, “Women Say They Don’t Feel ‘Respected and Valued’ as Veterans in New Survey,” Huffington Post, June 9, 2015, accessed August 5, 2015.
 Lyndy McLaughlin, “Women Veterans, Servicemembers, and Military Spouses to Receive Entrepreneurship Training May 28-30 at V-WISE DC,” Syracuse University Institute for Veterans and Military Families, May 27, 2015, accessed August 5, 2015.
 Laurie Sayles Artis, “United States Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship Testimony,” (testimony presented at Opening Doors to Economic Opportunity for Our Veterans and Their Families through Entrepreneurship, Washington, D.C. June 25, 2015).
 Jules Lichtenstein, “Profile of Veteran Business Owners: More Young Veterans Appear to Be Starting Businesses,” Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, November 8, 2013, accessed August 4, 2015.