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Middlesex County College Celebrates Women Veterans

By Alexander Lewis and Harsh Godhani
Head Social Media Editor and Campus & Community Editor

Veteran Services and the Student Life office co-host a documentary film, “Served Like A Girl,” in the College Center Corral Restaurant on March 19 at 11 a.m. for Women’s History Month.

The film shows several female veterans compete in the annual Ms. Veteran America Competition, giving viewers their emotional backstories and a glimpse of the hardships that women in service face upon returning home, like homelessness.

After the film there was a meet and greet session with a representative of the MCC veteran community, MCC student veteran and business major, Amanda Janiga, who served six and a half years in the Army as a human intelligence collector and was deployed in Afghanistan, where she was one of seven females out of 200 people on her base.

The director, Lysa Heslov, put a human face on the issue by not only interviewing military women but also the families and loved ones that helped shape these women into patriotic heroes.

“Served Like A Girl” sheds light on the lack of resources available for the fastest-growing homeless demographic, female veterans, and showed that women in the military are treated as second-class soldiers, who are often denied the same rights and resources that their male counterparts have no trouble getting. This largely attributes to the 55,000 military women who are currently homeless.

Veterans services assistant, Michael Barany, said that female veterans are severely misunderstood and underrepresented in the veteran community.

Barany said that when he went out for a free Veterans Day lunch with one of his female veteran friends, she was asked to prove that she was a vet while he was not.

She ended up crying because this happens every Veterans Day to her said Barany.

“My passion [is] to [get people to] understand [that] women serve too,” said Barany.

“I think what I like the most about this documentary is seeing and hearing their stories and kind-of their struggles but you also saw how they overcame it all,” Janiga said, “How despite their service or the things that may have happened to them throughout their enlistment or their deployments female veterans … overcome.”

Janiga said, “Be strong, [if you’re interested, be a woman and join the military] and do it.”

“When I … [joined up] there weren’t very many females [so] I decided the men couldn’t say anything to me if I could keep up,” said Janiga, “So, I ran faster than them … I shot better than them.”

Janiga said, “I never wanted to be better, I just wanted to be seen as equal.”

“Be you and be strong, be proud that you’re a female in the Army because there aren’t that many in the military overall,” said Janiga, “You can do anything that anybody else can do. ”

A large part of the meet and greet discussion centered around the topic of female veteran homelessness.

Veterans advocate, Richard Feldman, said, “I think the key thing that makes veterans become homeless is the transition problems that they have.”

Feldman said that while the U.S. does a great job making service members into service members, with up to 12 weeks of training, transition training out of the military is only three days.

“Some of these folks have gone in the military when they’re 17, 18 years old, have never been out on their own and then all of a sudden, they’re 24-25 years old and they’re trying to learn how to be a civilian and how to be on your own,” said Feldman.

“It’s different obstacles that you face,” Janiga said, “In the military, you know where everything is, [but] when you get out you’re thrust out into the world on your own and the preparation that you’re given is really subpar.”

Janiga said, “I went to the dentist for the first time since I got out of the army on Thursday [because] I chipped my tooth and I’ve never had private health insurance, [so] I filled out all the paperwork wrong twice.”

Barany said, “When I exited the military in 2011 you’re supposed to go to resume writing, interview techniques but since I was a combat Military Occupational Specialty (MOS, U.S. Army) I was ineligible: my paperwork [said], ‘There is no civilian transfer for your position.’”

“I was in the hiring process for D.E.A. for three and a half years until I was medically disqualified because of my back [and] it is harder, from my experience, for female veterans, said Barany, “In the federal hiring process, [female veterans] have to jump through more hoops that I did, they had to provide more paperwork than I did.”

Barany said that one of his friends tried to commit suicide because after her 20th or 30th interview for a law enforcement position, she was turned down again and was told things like, ‘This position is closed but you can be the secretary or you can be admin.’

Janiga said, “I thought I’d have no problems finding a job.”

“I served for six and a half years, I had a security clearance, I had all these great things,” said Janiga, “I think I went to 40 job interviews in three weeks and didn’t get hired.”

Janiga said, “None of my experience transferred except for private security and I worked in a jail.”

She said she got a lot of job offers for intelligence work but they were on a far-away, unpaid trial basis.

“I couldn’t uproot myself and my family from Texas to go there for something uncertain,” said Janiga, “For every job offer I would’ve [also] had to go back overseas for at least six months every two years and as enticing as it is, that becomes your new normal; so, then you come home and everything feels so … different, you’re not used to this anymore.”

“It definitely gets discouraging, but if you can’t pay your bills and you can’t find gainful employment that’s stable and pays enough then sometimes you lose your housing,” said Janiga, “Once you lose your housing it really starts to make it harder to regain it.”

One issue that was repeated in the film was the trouble female veterans faced in securing housing benefits.

Barany said, “Pride amongst the veteran community is also a big problem.”

Habitat for Humanity tried to reach out to veterans to give them housing, but all the veterans they contacted turned them down, said Barany.

“I knew one guy that turned it down, he’s been living in a cardboard box for a year and a half,” said Barany, “He’s like ‘I don’t need it. I’m fine. Give it to someone that deserves it. Someone else is in a more dire situation than I am.’”

When asked how the public can better support our veterans, Janiga said that awareness and community outreach programs are a great help.

“If we want the community to support us we have to support the community as well,” said Janiga.

“Get involved, be involved,” Feldman said, “Awareness is an important thing but you need to take it a step further that just being aware, you need to be involved, whether it’s working with a VFW, participating in a 5K event or donating to a food bank.”

For more information, contact Frank Rivera or Michael Barany at Veterans Services at 732-906-7770, [email protected] or go to West Hall, Room 100.

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