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The Senate unanimously passed a bill Wednesday that would establish a program within the state Department of Veterans’ Affairs to reach out to women veterans to make them aware of federal and state veterans’ benefits and services.

“There’s a sense that women don’t feel fully integrated into the process of services to veterans and this is a step towards making that happen. All veterans of whichever gender should have equal access to veteran services,” Sen. President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said.

Additionally, the bill would assess existing programs and veteran networks that are designed to meet the needs of Connecticut’s women veterans.

“A lot of the services, if you look at the overall veteran population, are for older veterans who have a different set of needs than the younger veterans who are typically female. I think doing this assessment would give us a better understanding of what those needs are,” Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, said.

Flexer, who is Senate Chair of the Veteran’s Affairs Committee and brought the bill forward in the Senate, said that the average age of women veterans is 48, compared to men, which is 63.

Jackie Evonsion, an Air Force veteran from North Canton and the Women Veterans’ Outreach Coordinator for the American Legion, said that a lot of women veterans don’t recognize themselves as veterans when they return home.

“Working with female veterans, I have realized that we really need to reach out to inform them of the benefits that they are eligible for,” Evonsion said in a press release.

Evonsion said that the bill would specifically focus on connecting women veterans to state veteran networks and provide enhanced mental health support. “We do have people that work with the VA that are trying to outreach and specialize in certain fields for women, but we need more as a state,” she said. 

Post-Sept. 11 women veterans have higher rates of unemployment, are twice as likely to be homeless, and struggle with mental health issues, according to Sen. Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk.

“A support system designed to serve a predominantly male population cannot meet the needs of a 21st century military where 20 percent of new recruits are women. This overdue legislation will help us identify the most urgent needs of our returning women veterans,” Duff said.

The bill now goes to the House for approval.