It may surprise you that in 2023 women combat veterans are routinely denied care by the VA. Their service is dismissed like it never happened. I know because I sat in a VA clinicians office as they told me to my face, “Women don’t fight in combat.” But I did fight in combat, along with about 300 other women in Cultural Support Teams (CST), and we experienced the same traumas and injuries as our male counterparts. On the battlefield, we were equals, comrades, battle-buddies. Upon our return home, we began to realize we were no longer seen as equals. While our operator brothers received swift attention and recognition, my fellow CSTs and I struggled to convince the rest of the world that we had been in gunfights too.
You see, until 2010, women did not officially serve in combat roles. That changed during the War on Terror. All-male SEAL and Special Forces teams could not interact or communicate readily with the female population in Afghanistan. This gap in intelligence prompted DOD to develop the CST program. Women from all branches and occupations answered the call to serve in this new capacity. Operating under US Army Special Operations Command (USASOC), we fought alongside our military’s elite operators during the height of the Afghan war, and we became an integral part of Special Operations and intelligence gathering.
While primarily an intelligence-serving role, CSTs frequently engaged in firefights alongside our male counterparts. Gradually, we became more involved in Direct Action (DA) operations – the kind of door-kicking Hollywood action scenes our minds envision. As a CST Operator, I engaged in 20 combat missions. I have all of the scars visible and invisible to prove it.
For years I have been fighting with the VA and DOD to have my service recognized, so that I can receive the care I have earned with great personal sacrifice. My story is not isolated. My CST sisters experience the same disparity. This mistreatment of women veterans cannot continue.
The great news is, this is all starting to change. Though I have hit roadblock after roadblock, I refused to stand down or settle. Quitting is not part of the Special Ops ethos. I turned to my SOF brothers and sisters to get the job done. I brought this issue to the Special Operations Association of America, knowing they lived by the same ethos. Together, we have worked with members of Congress to introduce the Jax Act. The bill is bipartisan legislation with an all-veteran cast – introduced by Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) and co-sponsored by representatives Houlahan (D-PA), Crow (D-CO) and Kiggans (R-VA). On Thursday, 23 March, the Bill was introduced in the House .
However, this is only the beginning and we must continue to fight until the Jax Act is signed into law. After this initial introduction, the Bill will be shepherded through the rest of the House and Senate. You can join the fight for CSTs! Please contact your local representative and support the passage of the JAX ACT. You may also choose to donate to the Special Operations Association of American at soaa.org/donate. On behalf of CSTs, we would deeply appreciate your support.