Serving Our Sisters Provides Much-Needed Support for Female Veterans
In observance of Veteran’s Day November 11, we are shining the spotlight on Brittany Brooks, Esq. Veteran and an Equal Justice Works Fellow for the program Serving Our Sisters (S.O.S) at Coast to Coast Legal Aid of South Florida (CCLA). Thanks to a grant from The Florida Bar Foundation, this is a first of its kind program in Florida. S.O.S provides trauma-informed civil legal services and outreach to assist female veterans in Broward County reintegrate into civilian life and access resources vital to their financial and medical security. Since its inception in October 2020, the Serving Our Sisters Fellowship program has provided assistance for more than 30 female veterans in Broward County.
Unbeknown to many, female veterans face a unique set of needs that often go unmet. In addition to the struggles faced by all veterans, female veterans experience sexual assault, or military sexual trauma (MST) at a significantly higher rate than the general population. In 2018 alone, the Department of Defense (DOD) received 7,623 reports of MST involving service members. In fact, the Center for Law and Military Policy recently found that 70 military members experience MST each day, which comes out to 3 victims every single hour which comes out to women in the military are 16 times more likely to experience sexual trauma than their civilian counter parts. MST is a historically widespread problem and one that affects a large population of veterans, including Brittany. Inspired by her own struggles as a victim, Brittany has dedicated her post-military career to helping other women affected by MST overcome their challenges and navigate civilian life.
Thousands of veterans leave the military with less than honorable discharges due to the behavioral symptoms associated with MST and PTSD. This means their access to veteran resources is severely limited or completely revoked. They often return to civilian life with no resources, guidance or prior knowledge on how to address everyday issues. For those that do understand processes for seeking assistance, it can still be difficult to discuss trauma with lawyers or social workers who are unfamiliar with military culture. It is found that female veterans specifically, are not comfortable or trusting in seeking assistance from the male-dominated Veterans Affairs health system and finding services that are both veteran specific and trauma-informed can be difficult.
At the helm of S.O.S, Brittany works alongside CCLA and veterans organizations to provide a safe space for female veterans to seek legal assistance and resources. Through the program, female veterans are assisted with securing VA and social security benefits, obtaining discharge upgrades, addressing family law problems, assisting with housing issues, and addressing any other legal needs. By providing legal assistance to veterans, and reaching out to social workers, healthcare providers, and other service providers for veterans, S.O.S can address immediate needs, while ensuring resources are in place to prevent recurring issues, and in turn, creating long-term systemic change.