Homeless veteran Melissa A. Ramon cries in the relaxation room at the "4th Annual Heroes in the Shadows, San Gabriel Valley Veterans Stand Down" in Pomona, Ca.
Ms. Ramon spent nine years in the U.S. Air Force where she endured Military Sexual Trauma (MST) at the hands of her training instructor and fellow airmen. "You see stripes and think it's power and authority. I went along with it because it was my career if I'd have stopped. I had the rules and he didn't. Whatever way he looked at it, it was his word against mine,” she said. Suffering from MST and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, she has been homeless off and on since her discharge. “They keep denying us, denying the claims and make us jump through hoops and even lose our paperwork. It’s like they are trying to kill us with what they put us through,” she said.
Her tattoo embodies her military experience. “Shhhh....seems to have been the solution to the problem. The cover-ups, the corruption, the so-called nonprofits to “help us”, the people who were inappropriate, yet only make our situation worse. It represents everything in my life that just has been hushed; that I live with everyday and struggle (with) but makes me stronger,” she said.
The challenges for female veterans are unique and difficult to address, especially when programs for vets seldom meet the needs of mothers and many homeless women vets happen to be single parents. Many women's shelters will not admit a young man over the age of twelve. While Melissa has sought help for permanent housing from the Veteran's Administration and Los Angeles County social services, she has only been offered a bed in a homeless shelter in a neighboring county. In addition to not wanting to remove her son from a school where he is thriving, Melissa refuses to send her son to the men’s side of a homeless shelter, so she and 13-year-old Sam bounce from one drug-ridden motel to another outside Los Angeles in Pomona, CA.