COOS BAY — A local support group in Coos County geared toward serving the area’s female veterans has been formed.
In an effort to raise awareness and representation of women veterans, a group of local advocates joined forces to start the area’s only all women’s support group, The Women Veterans of the Oregon Coast.
About two months ago, members of the South Coast Veterans Assistance Network (SCVAN), a group of nonprofits, businesses and individuals dedicated to helping veterans, met and discussed the issues they’ve witnessed from the lack of resources for women.
Krystal Hopper, a SCVAN member and founder, was among the most vocal expressing her difficulties with finding peer counseling for her mother, Rosemary, a retired Army veteran after they moved to North Bend earlier this year.
“I work as a caretaker for my mom and we’ve been in and out of the VA system for different things,” said Hopper. “One of things we were looking for was ways for her to get connected to the community. I heard there were only male support groups and nothing really for women.”
According to Hopper, the meetings will be conversational and based on topics the group as a whole is interested in discussing. The group will meet on the fourth Monday of every month for about an hour at the Coos Bay Elks Lodge. Hopper also said she will be recording the group’s concerns within the community at large and connecting them with the appropriate resources.
The first meeting took place in July and about 20-25 women attended. Carma Erickson-Hurt, a member of the group and retired Navy nurse, said she was pleasantly surprised to see the large turnout.
“I have been interested in having women veterans get together for a couple of years now,” said Erickson-Hurt. “However nothing really formalized and we didn’t really know exactly how many women veterans were actually in the area. You don’t see a lot of women wearing the ball caps and t-shirts like men do.”
According to a report by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the total population of women veterans is expected to increase at an average rate of about 18,000 women per year for the next 10 years.
Carol Gardner, a SCVAN member and veteran, was also in attendance and said for years she’s noticed the area was lacking representation for women veterans and that the need for a counseling group to talk about grief, PTSD and mental health has been long overdue.
“A lot of women out there were not really feeling like they were being equally served,” said Gardner. “Hopefully this group will make a big difference.”
Gardner served six years in the Navy and six years in the Army. She started her military career at the age of 18 through the administrative program and now serves as the administration and personnel manager at South Coast Hospice.
As co-leader for this year’s Veterans Stand Down event, Gardner said it’s important to reach out to all veterans regardless of their gender or socioeconomic status. She was also among the earlier voices who wanted to see some sort of women’s group implanted in the county several years ago.
“I think it was just a matter of timing and the time is now,” said Gardner.