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  

Jennifer Badger said a “whole melting pot full of different factors” led her to abuse drugs and alcohol.

At 19 years old, she enlisted in the Navy. Her father had recently died from a drug overdose, and she was looking for a way to escape the grief.

“I was … very depressed,” Badger said. “I was really close with my dad.”

While she loved her job as an intelligence specialist, her service came with challenges that added to the melting pot. She experienced sexual harassment and assault and struggled as one of few women in her squadron. In an attempt to fit in, she began drinking heavily.

In 2005, after four years in the Navy and as a new mom, Badger decided to reenter civilian life and found herself feeling incredibly lost. She had two more children accompanied by periods of sobriety, but she gradually began using drugs to cope. Eventually, she was deep into a methamphetamine addiction.

“One of the worst demons on the planet,” Badger said of the drug.

It wasn’t until 2021, when Badger had nowhere else to turn, that she sought help. Someone referred her to Welcome Home Inc., program for veterans experiencing homelessness, funded in part by the DAV Charitable Service Trust. Before that, Badger hadn’t even considered herself a veteran. Welcome Home became her connection to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

During a meeting with a VA supportive housing specialist, she admitted for the first time on record that she had a drug problem. Badger was almost immediately admitted into a six-week inpatient drug rehab program at her local VA medical facility. She’s been sober ever since.

Badger said what made the program phenomenal was twofold: It included off-site recreational activities that taught her how to have fun without drugs or alcohol, and it included peer specialists.

“These are people that have literally sat in the same seats that I’m sitting in … and they came out of it and here they are telling their story and helping other people,” she said.

Badger is now a certified peer specialist and hopes to work with the VA in that capacity.

“I knew that I wanted to help other people like me,” she said.