by Elisa Basnight & Rhett Jeppson
Women have served in the United States Armed Forces since the Revolutionary War. Today, there are over two million women veterans across the United States, representing 9.2 percent of the entire living veterans population. Women are one of the fastest growing segments of the overall veteran population. In the past, women accounted for only about 4 percent of the World War II veterans and about 3 percent and 12.5 percent, respectively, of the Korean and Vietnam-era veterans. Women veterans today represent about 30 percent of post 9/11 veterans according to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Today, active duty and recruiting data project the percentage of women veterans to increase to almost 16 percent of the entire veteran population by 2040.
The landscape for women veterans continues to evolve with the demands of recent wars, the Department of Defense’s decision to rescind the ground combat exclusion policy for women, and the challenges that many face with readjustment upon returning home. These factors add to the complexity of women veterans’ military service legacy. Their military experiences are diverse, given the specialty opportunities that have opened-up to women over the decades and given the advancement opportunities that women have been able to pursue.
Today, women veterans are also more likely to be in the sub-populations that have higher unemployment rates, such as veterans currently enrolled in school, those under 35 years old, and those who served post 9/11. Such challenges are further exacerbated by issues such as child care, unique health care issues and higher homelessness rates. As we are adjusting to a new dynamic brought about by a surge in the number of women who choose to serve our country in uniform—and to their needs as veterans—the VA is stepping-up its efforts in serving women veterans.
In 1994, Congress established the Center for Women Veterans to ensure that VA addresses the changing needs of women veterans. Headquartered in the Office of the Secretary, Elisa Basnight currently serves as the Center Director. One of the Center’s priority goals is to build and enhance partnerships that can enable women veterans to build economic stability and improve their well-being and that of their families.
A perfect example of the Center’s meeting that goal was the establishment of a strategic partnership with the United States Mint this past May. Agreed to by Ms. Basnight and Rhett Jeppson, the Principal Deputy Director of the Mint, the partnership could not have come at a better time.
The Mint’s circulating coin production levels over the past several months had increased dramatically due to an improved economy. The Mint was receiving orders for circulating coins from the Federal Reserve (Fed) at levels approaching those not seen since before the recession in 2006. In fact, the orders were so significant that the Mint’s leadership realized that it needed to add another shift at its Denver and Philadelphia facilities to meet the demand from the Fed. Both Denver and Philadelphia had been operating with two shifts.
Going to three shifts, however, was going to require hiring additional people—quality, committed, disciplined and dedicated people. And what a better and more deserving force to offer employment opportunities to than our veterans? After all, the qualities the Mint was looking for are those that our veterans embody. So it was like a match made in heaven. Clearly, the Mint had a mission critical need to make coins in order to fulfill its orders from the Fed. Coins are an absolute necessity to sustain the economic fabric of our nation. At the same time, the partnership was providing some outstanding paths to sustainable careers to a very deserving cadre.
The Mint committed to holding two career fairs—one in Denver and the other in Philadelphia. Although open to the public, the fairs focused on veterans with a special outreach effort to women veterans. The positions that needed to be filled included metal forming machine operators; coin manufacturers; tool and parts attendants; and materials handlers.
The first career fair was conducted in late May in Philadelphia. Of the 41 people who attended, 20 were veterans. Seven were selected to be interviewed and all seven were offered positions. Four were women.
In early June, the second fair was held in Denver where 42 individuals attended—38 of which were veterans. Nine veterans were interviewed and eight were offered positions. Seven of the eight were women.
Prior to the career fairs, the Center for Women Veterans alerted VA’s Homeless Office to ensure that veterans who are homeless or at risk of being homeless were made aware of the events and able to participate.
We considered both career fairs extremely successful and couldn’t have been more pleased. The events said “thanks” to our veterans in a subtle but still very substantive way.
The partnership between the Center for Women Veterans and the Mint continues with the two agencies coming together at the upcoming Nationwide Women Veterans Campaign events in San Diego/Oceanside (July 10), Houston (August 7), Minneapolis (September 14), and Washington, DC (September 22). The Campaign events will raise awareness and celebrate the stories of women veterans and provide an overview of services and benefits available to them. Experts will be available to answer veterans’ questions, and exhibitors will share information on their many resources.
For more information on the Campaign events, visit: http://www.va.gov/WOMENVET/wvCampaign.asp.
Information about job opportunities at the U.S. Mint can be found at:
Elisa Basnight, Esq., was appointed Director of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Center for Women Veterans in October 2013. In this role, she is the primary advisor to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on programs and issues related to women Veterans. She is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy – West Point, and a former Army intelligence officer.
Rhett Jeppson is the Principal Deputy Director of the U.S. Mint. Prior to joining the Mint in January 2015, Jeppson served as the Acting Chief Operating Officer of the Small Business Administration. He also served as Associate Administrator for Veterans Business Development at the SBA. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps and was commissioned after graduating from the University of Florida. He has deployed to conflicts in Iraq (Operation Desert Storm) and Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom). He currently remains a member of the Marine Corps Reserve where he serves as a Lieutenant Colonel.