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A change in America's armed forces means a change in America's veterans. Women are playing more roles in Iraq and Afghanistan than they have in previous wars. And then they come home. And this morning we're going to look at homeless women veterans.�Susan Kaplan of member station WFCR visited a shelter that cares for them in Brockton, Massachusetts.
SUSAN KAPLAN: So here's the twist. I went to meet CC, a homeless woman veteran, at her home.
How long have you been here?
Ms. CHERISH CORNISH (Veteran): In this building? Since June.
KAPLAN: It's nice.
Ms. CORNISH: Yeah, it is. It's a lot nicer than where I've been.
KAPLAN: It's not really hers. Cherish Cornish - CC - lives here on the fifth floor of a temporary housing facility run by a private nonprofit group. She speaks with a Southern accent, a legacy of years growing up in Texas. She enlisted in the Army at 20. Today at 29 she's struggling to make a life after the military.
Ms. CORNISH: When I joined the Army I was barely 20 years old. I come out and I'm 23. And so I just kind of came of age in the military. And I wind up on my own again in an apartment. It's the first time I've had to pay rent since I was a teenager. It's the first time I had to pay a light bill pretty much ever. And all these responsibilities and budgeting and stuff that I really I never had to deal with in the military.
KAPLAN: There are other complications. She's suffering from PTSD. It took the Department of Veterans Affairs several years to diagnose her. CC believes her trauma stems from her service in Iraq. She was a�transmission specialist working at isolated outposts monitoring and intercepting�radio communications. Still, CC thinks she lucked out, because often she'd just miss getting physically hurt.
Ms. CORNISH: I was on a checkpoint doing some guard duty one day and as soon as we left, sniper attacked. And I mean we heard the gunfire as we were driving away and looked back and saw them engaged in actual combat. And we just left there.
Dr. AMY STREET (Psychologist, National Center for PTSD): These wars are unique in terms of women's roles. Both in terms of the number of women who are serving, but also in terms of the types of duties and the types of responsibilities that they have in the war zone.
KAPLAN: Dr. Amy Street is a psychologist for the National Center for PTSD at Boston's VA health care system.
Dr. STREET: And I'm not sure that our country's perception of women as warriors has caught up with what's happening on the ground.
KAPLAN: And there are misperceptions about what's happening when women soldiers return home. Women vets are running into all sorts of obstacles, including homelessness. The number of younger women vets becoming homeless has nearly doubled in the last decade to roughly 6,500, according to the VA. Most are under the age of 35.�But many of these women aren't turning to the VA for help. CC says she tried, but clinics were too far away and there were other problems.
Ms. CORNISH: And then the groups that they did have around the area were almost all men. And most of them did not believe that women were combat veterans. Yeah, most of them didn't believe women were veterans period. That we don't really serve that much of a purpose in the military. And definitely a combat zone, they just assumed that we were paper pushers or something like that. We were far behind the lines. And that's not true.
KAPLAN: The VA says it's working to improve its care for women. Still, they're not there yet, which is why women like CC went�elsewhere, to a private nonprofit.�It's called�Father Bill's & MainSpring. April Connelly is a social worker at that program.
Ms. APRIL CONNELLY (Social Worker): So to have an organization like ours that isn't necessarily associated with the military, it might be a little bit more accessible. And I think that's the idea for the VA to be involved with us, to really start reaching�out to private nonprofits so that they are getting their services available, which are amazing to the people that have served.
KAPLAN: CC has found a place for now that she can call home. But she's one of the lucky ones. At the shelter where she's living there are only five rooms for homeless female veterans.�
For NPR News, I'm Susan Kaplan.
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