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SALT LAKE CITY -- Throughout history, hundreds of Utah men and women have served in the armed forces, but many female veterans aren't reaping the benefits of their service.
Of Utah's 12,000 female veterans only 3,000 use veteran health benefits. -VA Salt Lake City
Some of those female veterans met Wednesday at the Veterans Benefits Fair in Salt Lake City to recognize one another's service and sacrifice. Those who help veterans also used it as an opportunity to educate them about programs and services many veterans don't realize exist.
As more and more women enter the military, change is ongoing. Women represent 14 percent of the U.S. Armed Forces today. To Utah's female veterans, that's something to be proud of.
"I think they are the real heroes that are right out there fighting," said Jo Nielan, who served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
14 percent of U.S. Armed Forces are women and of the 1.7 million troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, 10 percent are women. -VA Salt Lake City
But some have lingering issues because of that service, and may not know help is available.
"There are more homeless female veterans, as a minority group, than there are of other minorities. Also, there are more women that are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder," said Berni Davis, coordinator for the Women Veterans Program.
At the Veterans Benefits Fair, organizers hope to change that by educating women about services they can use, like free health care.
500 Foothill Dr., Salt Lake City
Gina Painter, Program manager 801-582-1565, ext. 5423
The majority of Utah's female veterans don't use their benefits, either because they don't recognize themselves as veterans or they don't know about available benefits. Vietnam veteran Sharen Welsh was among them.
"Well, I got out in '69 and didn't know I had benefits until 2003," Welsh said. "At one time there wasn't that commitment that said, ‘Hey, you've served. You're on discharge. This is what you're entitled to.'"
Welsh says she has received quality health care since she started using her benefits, and she saves money.
"Times are changing, and it's really good," Welsh said.
Utah's female veterans will be honored at Fort Douglas, where a memorial is in the works.
If you would like to donate to the memorial you can send it to:
Utah Women's Memorial
c/o Fort Douglas Museum
32 Potter Street
Fort Douglas, UT 84113