This story is part of DAV’s 2024 report, Women Veterans: The Journey to Mental Wellness. The report is a comprehensive assessment of the unique factors contributing to the staggering rates of suicide among women veterans and how the system charged with their mental health care can and must do better. Learn more at  

For 15 years, Jennifer Alvarado lived in survival mode. She struggled to hold a job, was at risk of homelessness and relied on food banks. It was exactly the kind of life she hoped to avoid when she joined the Navy as a 19-year-old single mom.

But after years of intimate partner violence that went ignored by her peers, compounded by repeat military sexual trauma (MST), Alvarado was exactly where she didn’t want to be.

“I felt lost in a lot of ways, and I had to dig myself out of a very dark place while I was trying to be an exceptional sailor and wear my uniform with pride,” she said. “It was almost like I was living a double life.”

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, nearly 1 in 5 women veterans using Veterans Health Administration primary care reported experiencing intimate partner violence in the past year.

When Alvarado turned to her leadership for help with the violence she was experiencing at home, she said she was met with sexual harassment at work.

“I felt shame to begin with, but I felt even more shame when I reached out for help,” she said.

By the time she left the Navy, Alvarado said her life was chaotic and unstable. At times, she found solace in drinking, and during one phase in her life, she considered suicide. Alvarado said she’s been lucky to see the same VA therapist since 2006, but other experiences have left her disappointed and further traumatized.

She said she’s been sexually harassed at her local VA clinic, doctors have piled on prescriptions with adverse reactions, her benefits claim for depression was denied, and nobody even talked to her about PTSD.

With DAV’s help, Alvarado eventually had a claim for PTSD approved, and for the first time in 15 years, she said, she felt truly heard. Her hope is that no veteran has to wait that long. She said the VA must regain the trust of women veterans and make sure they know what resources are available to them.

“They need to feel confident that they are going to get the care that they need and deserve.”