Women in the military don't get the respect they've earned. That culture is starting to change

Shelly Rood has served her country with honor. A distinguished military graduate from the ROTC program at Western Michigan University, she spent 16 years in the U.S. Army Reserve, which included military intelligence and being stationed around the country and the world.

And yet despite her commitment, she's often reminded of the respect her male colleagues receive that she doesn't.

"Why is it when I go to the home improvement store and I'm buying a new garage door and I ask 'Do you have a military discount?' and the man turns to my husband and says 'No we don't but thank you for your service,'" said Rood.

It's a similar story for Monica Munir, who served active duty in the U.S. Army, the Army Reserve, and the National Guard. She said she sometimes feels invisible.

"If you have a plate that says 'veteran' or what branch you were in and its your vehicle, a lot of people think it's your husband or your dad's car. I'm like 'It's me,'" said Munir.

There are some trend lines that reveal an encouraging sentiment: enrollment among women in the military is increasing. Even so, they face very unique issues no other demographic might.

Fertility problems among female veterans is three times greater than those faced by civilian women. The rate of suicide for female veterans is double that of civilian women. And then there's sexual assault. A recent study found one in three women reported having been raped or sexually assaulted during their time in the military.

The Pentagon's figures show figures that match this ratio: In the last two years, reports of sexual assault have risen 50 percent.

"It is completely possible in the military to be raped or assaulted by somebody on Saturday and be expected to show up at 6 a.m. on Monday and stand right next to him in formation," said Rood.

"When that happens, you lose part of yourself and you put it through to the back of your mind and you kind of bury it down," said Munir

Cynitra Anderson, another veteran said she was raped while she served in the Navy in the early '90s. Her rapist was court-martialed but allowed to stay in the military. She said she was treated like a second-class citizen.

"They never offered me no therapy, they never offered me no counseling or anything. They actually treated me like crap," said Anderson.

And that's trauma that can stick with these individuals for the rest of their lives. Couple that trauma with issues like depression or homelessness and problems become magnified for female veterans. And yet, there's nowhere to go for counseling. 

But that's about to change thanks to work being done at historic homes at the Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township. The Eisenhower Center is leasing old homes and other buildings to create a transition center for female veterans. There, they'll be able to live on the base for a year with their families while getting treatment, counseling, and vocational training.

"Having a program that allows a female to keep her family with her while she's getting the help and care that she needs is phenomenal and it's something that will actually work," said Rood.

Rood has also started a peer-support group for any woman who served. Meeting once a month, Rood is aspiring to help these women understand their value and importance. 

"When I discovered her group, I said 'oh wow, what a blessing. This is truly a blessing because somebody really truly understands,'" said Anderson.

"We've had enough and we're finally standing up and coming together and saying 'we deserve better, we deserve equality, we deserve to be valued the same way that everyone else is valued," said Rood.