Belonging and Support: Women Veterans' Perceptions of Veteran Service Organizations

  • Thomas K
  • Haring E
  • McDaniel J
  • et al.
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Background and Purpose: This research sought to better understand female veterans’ underutilization of veteran and military service organizations (VSO/MSOs). Specifically, the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) conducted a needs assessment examining historically low levels of social cohesion among women veterans, and then a research team analyzed data for its statistical and practical significance. The intent of this research was to provide guidance about how best to develop organizational programming around the needs of military women. Materials & Methods: Secondary analysis of 2016 SWAN needs assessment survey data involved mixed-methods analysis of open- and closed-ended questions related to VSO/MSO participation and included: frequency tables, geospatial analysis, multivariate regression analysis with educational achievement, race/ethnicity, service branch, and service era predicting participation. Quantitative analyses were followed by content analysis of questions that provided additional insight into the participants’ perceptions of VSO/MSOs. Results: Of the sample (n = 829) in the present study, 31.1% of respondents were members of one or more VSO/MSOs. Current members (n = 219, response rate 84.9%) identified three primary organizations in which they participated, including: The American Legion (32%), Disabled American Veterans (28%), and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (28%). Some variation in VSO membership was evident geographically, with participation highest in Maryland and Wisconsin. Regression models indicated that participation in VSOs by female veterans is predicted by higher levels of education (OR = 1.66, 95% CI [1.04, 2.66]) and Hispanic/Latino ethnicity (OR = 2.60, 95% CI [1.07, 6.33]). Statistical significance was not found for predictor variables of service branch or service era, although greater proportions were Army (30.4%) and Post-9/11 (27.6%). Qualitative analyses indicated that respondents (n = 773) did not feel welcome in existing service member and veteran groups (25.23%) and stated that this was among the reasons they were not currently a member (29.75%). Conclusion: Study findings offer perspective regarding women veterans’ participation in and perceptions of VSO/MSOs. The findings offer important feedback for organizations hoping to reach women veterans, the fastest growing veteran population. Targeted programming is indicated. Recommendations also include single-sex offerings, available child care at some events, and tailored outreach with peer support efforts.




Thomas, K. H., Haring, E. L., McDaniel, J., Fletcher, K. L., & Albright, D. L. (2017). Belonging and Support: Women Veterans’ Perceptions of Veteran Service Organizations. Journal of Veterans Studies, 2(2), 2.

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