Veterans conference to be held today

LIHUE — There was a time when women were a small minority within the military and within the Department of Veterans Affairs, said Kauai Veterans Center team leader Romy Castillo.

“Oftentimes, services were not specifically geared toward women — it was primarily geared toward men,” Castillo said.

But that trend, he said, is changing.

In 2009, women made up 8 percent of the total veteran population in the United States, according to a 2011 Department of Veterans Affairs report. By 2035, women are expected to make up 15 percent of all living veterans.

“We’re trying to at least maybe have women come together, because as a minority, you don’t normally get together,” Castillo said. “Having them come together would be helpful for them so they’re not alone, and as a group, they can speak up and try to address similar issues that they felt may not have been addressed.”

It’s a goal that Castillo said and other local organizations are hoping to accomplish today during this year’s inaugural Women Veterans Conference.

“Each island is unique, and as you know, we’re all isolated and we want to make sure the women veterans on Kauai are also updated, not only on Oahu,” Castillo said. “This is the first conference, so hopefully this will be an ongoing thing that people can build on, but we need to start getting the word out and reaching out to these women.”

The conference, which will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., will discuss needed aid and assistance, and identify resources now available for servicewomen. There are about 5,000 veterans, men and women, on Kauai.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, who is up for re-election this year, will deliver the conference’s keynote speech at 9:30 a.m. that will touch on her personal experiences as a female veteran, how military demographics are changing, and highlight the unique challenges and opportunities that female servicemembers face.

Eric Nordmeier, branch manager of Kauai’s Workforce Development Division, will be at the event to provide assistance.

“It’s not a job fair, per se, but if they have any questions or need help in recruiting themselves for job positions, WorkWise is going to be there to help in the employment sector,” Nordmeier said.

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