FARMINGTON — A day-long conference on Saturday brought resources and information to local women veterans, while giving them a chance to network with other veterans.
Fifty female veterans attended the Women Veterans' Benefits and Job Skills Conference at the Red Lion Hotel. The free conference was hosted by the New Mexico Department of Veterans' Services, the New Mexico Workforce Connection, New Mexico Behavioral Health Collaborative and Women Veterans of New Mexico.
Representatives from several organizations Albuquerque Veterans Affairs Regional Office, the New Mexico VA Health Care System and the New Mexico Department of Veterans' Services presented information about available benefits available for veterans and their dependents, with an emphasis on programs specifically for women veterans.
Attendees also learned about resume writing, interviewing and the local employment market. Officials from Presbyterian Medical Services discussed strategies to deal with the stress and anxiety experienced by many veterans, including stress caused by being unemployed and having to find a job.
"Because this is a rural area, many of the main VA federal and state resources are in Albuquerque, so we bring the services and information to them through this conference," said Michele Tyson-March, director of field operations for the New Mexico Department of Veterans' Services.
The conference is held in Farmington every other year.
Tyson-March said many times female veterans don't even realize that they're entitled to the same benefits as male veterans.
"Because of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, this is the first time in history so many women veterans have been returning from service, so it's important to get this information out to them," she said.
In addition to the surge in female veterans, women are also serving in different roles.
"In addition to more women than ever before coming back, they've also been serving in many different positions, not just as nurses or support (as in previous wars)," said Josetta Rodriguez, who organized the event. "We've also been stressing how many health resources are available to the women. There are 13 community-based outpatient clinics in New Mexico that they can use, including the clinic in Farmington."
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, women are now the fastest-growing subgroup of the U.S. veteran population. The number of women veterans is expected to increase dramatically in the next 10 years as combat operations wind down in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In New Mexico, there are 22,324 women veterans, which is 13 percent of the state's 172,085 overall veterans.
One of the conference attendees, Heather Slim, served from 2003 to 2007 in Okinawa, Japan, with the U.S. Marines. She currently works at Childhaven in Farmington and remains in the inactive ready reserves. Slim said she learned valuable information about home loans available through the VA, as well as job-seeking skills.
"It was good to learn about how to write a cover letter, write resumes and how to do interviews. I also didn't know that you can even have something put on your driver's license to indicate that you're a veteran," she said.
While many of the women are actively employed, others are in the process of seeking employment.
Lucinda Yellowhair served in the U.S. Army from 1987 to 1991 at Fort Meade, Md. She was also in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm.
"I may start looking for a job soon, so it was useful to learn some pointers on resume-writing and job searching, and to find out what benefits are available," she said. "They gave out a lot of helpful phone numbers and websites."
Martha Chosa traveled to Farmington for the conference from her home in Jemez, New Mexico. During the Vietnam War, Chosa served in Arizona with the U.S. Army, and she has been an active member of a local veterans organization in Jemez.
"I think this conference is more useful for the younger ones, because they're the ones who will be out looking for jobs," she said. "For me, what's important is to share what information I've learned with these younger ones. It's also been good just to visit with fellow female veterans."
Leigh Black Irvin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 505-564-4610. Follow her on Twitter @irvindailytimes.