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  

Toward the end of 2021, nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, 17-year Army veteran and DAV life member Constance Cotton needed community. In addition to the strains of the pandemic, she had recently lost her mother and was taking care of her father.

Around that time, she discovered WoVeN, a social network of women veterans that operates in local communities across the country. Cotton said she met virtually with her local group once a week for eight weeks, with sessions led by a trained peer leader.

“It was really special. It ended up being an amazing support group for that short period of time,” Cotton said, adding that the women in her group offered a safe space to share their experiences as service members and veterans.

“We were transparent about our struggle with being an invisible female veteran and feeling not appreciated [or] understood in society.”

Cotton enlisted in the Army in 1988 and worked in logistics in medical units. She served around the world, including in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War, and loved her job.

But Cotton experienced military sexual trauma various times during her military career, which she said affected her physical and mental health.

“[It] made me realize that I was not in a safe place,” she said.

Her experience made it difficult to trust others or feel safe. She was also dealing with trauma related to serving in a combat zone.

“When I came home from [the Gulf War], my father picked me up and he said I had a blank stare in my eyes and I wasn’t the same,” Cotton said. “And from that point, I began to realize that I was in a downhill spiral.”

Cotton eventually received mental health support through a Department of Veterans Affairs Vet Center, where she had the same counselor for nine years. She also turned to her faith and the community of women veterans for support.

That connection can be critical in a veteran’s mental wellness, particularly for women veterans, who are more likely to experience isolation, loneliness and poor social networks after service.

“It allows you to have those connections to understand that you’re not alone.”