There are 1.6 million female veterans, but only seven women-only veteran houses in the country. One of them is in Ballston Spa.
They serve our country with honor but can feel unrecognized and unequal.
“It’s like we have to do everything they do and then we have to put up with harassment,” said Jay Harrington.
Our perception of veterans is changing. No longer a band of brothers, 15 percent of active military is made up of sisters-in-arms facing unique battles.
“I tried to put it behind me and forget about it, because when I went to report it, they told me, you’re going to ruin your life, you’re going to ruin their life,” said Harrington.
One in four female vets say they’ve experienced military sexual trauma. Harrington enlisted in the air force in 1985. The memory of her service is marred by harassment and rape. She turned to heroin to cope with the flashbacks.
“I didn’t start living until that overdose,” she said.
It took almost dying for Harrington to open up about her abuse and get sober. Homeless, she found a roof over head at the only female veteran transition house in the state.
“They need to be empowered; they need to be reminded that what they’ve done for our country is something they need to be proud of,” said Leigha Rosenberger with the Veterans and Community Housing Coalition
From the peaceful gardens to the stocked pantry.
“Being able to have a choice of what they want to make and what they want to eat,” she said.
Rosenberger showed NEWS10 ABC reporter Mary Wilson around the old farm house. A beautiful staircase leads to plenty of bedrooms.
“A safe haven for them to come into at the end of the day,” she said.
The Guardian House in Ballston Spa is where Harrington learned to cope with her sexual trauma and connect with other women who have lived through it.
“You know, I kind of lived in fear. Trying to serve my country I lived in fear. I came into the military one person, and when I came home, I was a different person,” said Danielle Lacy.
After six months at the Guardian House, Lacy is ready to take the next step. The boxes are packed; it’s almost move out day.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” she said.
After all, the Guardian House is a stepping stone, not a destination. Harrington has been on her own for a year. She’s living in permanent, low-income veteran housing.
“It’s the best experience that I’ve had in my life,” she said.
But she knows many of her sisters are still struggling. Female vets are four times more likely to be homeless than their civilian counterparts and 2.5 times more likely to commit suicide, according to Veterans Affairs. Services exist but Rosenberger says women don’t seek them out or even identify as veterans because they didn’t serve in combat.
“No matter what your job or your role was in the military or whether you served two years, four years or 25 years, you took that oath, and you wanted to fight for our country and protect freedom,” said Rosenberger.
There’s something else these veterans have in common – resilience.
“I was so focused on the past that I couldn’t live in today or in the future, so now I’m going to live in the day and look forward to tomorrow.”
Children are not allowed at the Guardian House, but they want to change that by building a new facility on their property that will house veteran moms and their kids.