More than 45,000 nonprofits dedicated to supporting veterans and their families are registered with the IRS. But when it comes to support specifically for females, U.S. Air Force veteran Cat Corchado says it’s not as plentiful.
“When I first came to North Carolina and started to get involved in the veteran networking arena, what I found was the majority were men. If they had 100 people at a veteran organization and happened to be a lunch there, 96 were men and all the women were at a table together,” Corchado says.
“It wasn’t benefiting anybody. There’s a lot of organizations doing wonderful things, but they don’t do what we’re doing.”
The “we” she’s referring to is the Women Veterans Network (WoVeN). Ten percent of U.S. veterans are women. Established in 2017, WoVeN started with six “peer leaders” in Charlotte, San Antonio, and Pittsburgh, cities that had a large veteran presence.
Corchado is a national consultant for WoVeN and one of the original six who led small in-person groups of female veterans through discussions. Female veterans from any branch of the military, with any length of service during any era are welcome to join. “It doesn’t matter when you served. It matters that you served,” she says.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, groups met for 90 minutes every week for eight weeks to discuss specific themes: introductions, transitioning to civilian life, finding life balance, stress relief, making connections, healthy living, self-esteem, and celebrating the completion of the program.
Now, meetings take place online, and aren’t restricted to connecting women solely with those in the same geographic location. WoVeN has grown to 200 peer leaders, with 1300 women enrolled in small groups and another 650 on a waiting list.
“We like to keep it between six to eight women in each group because if it gets too big, it doesn’t flow,” Corchado says. “We find the smaller the group, the better and everybody gets a chance to connect, talk, and chat. It’s very intimate.”
Most of their members can be found along the east coast from Washington, D.C. down to Florida and through Texas. Peer leader training is starting in Oregon and Washington state, and WoVeN’s first peer leader in Hawaii just finished her training.
Corchado says female veterans face challenges that their male counterparts may not, which makes their transition to civilian life more difficult. Through WoVen, she says participants have a community that can relate.
“We get a lot of backlash from some civilians. They think we don’t ‘look’ like veterans. We always have to explain ourselves. I may use an acronym, and someone will say, ‘We don’t speak like that.’ It’s a very secluded feeling,” she says.
Even though the discussion topics don’t specifically focus on job training or careers, Corchado says they often lead to swapping tips and advice, such as how to translate military skills to a civilian resume, how to negotiate a job aligned with those skills, how to manage a career as a single parent, and even new opportunities for members.
“It may be hard to ask for help because we’re supposed to be hardcore women and don’t know how to ask for help,” she says. “Sometimes things will come to light through conversations. Like, ‘Hey, have you tried this? You’re so good at this, why don’t you do this?’ And our members may be so entrenched they couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. They could do it as a job or as a side hustle.”
It worked for Corchado. In addition to her work with WoVeN, she’s expanding her service to female veterans through her new venture, the Sisters in Service podcast.