MERRILLVILLE — Women in the military make the same sacrifices as their male counterparts, but the recognition they receive for their service isn't always the same.
Webb House, an organization serving homeless veterans, is working to help bridge that gap by opening a facility for female veterans to receive temporary housing and training that could lead to jobs in the building trades.
Webb House officials, representatives from veterans organizations and union members were among those who gathered Monday to break ground on the $1.6 million facility that will be located at 7800 Grant St. in Merrillville.
“We're not looking at something just for female vets, we're looking at something for the vets and their children,” said Robert Farmer, executive director of Webb House.
He's hopeful the facility could open as soon as June.
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Up to 10 female veterans could live there at a time. Children of the veterans also would be permitted, but there can be a maximum of 16 total people living there at once. No adult men would be allowed to live there.
“I can't tell you how thrilled I am about the fact that you're doing a women veterans shelter, they're so hard to come by,” said Jan Brown, national commander of the American Veterans (AMVETS) organization.
Brown said there are several factors that have unfortunately resulted in a lack facilities for female veterans. She said it's not only because there are fewer women in the military than men, but also because women could have children with them.
Representatives from local unions will visit the Webb House facility each week to provide training in various trades.
“These ladies will be trained,” Farmer said. “It's not like they're just going to be in a place getting three squares a day ... they will be in a classroom for training to improve themselves once they get out.”
The program is designed for women to live there and receive training for six to nine months.
For children who need supervision while veterans are in training, a licensed provider will be on site to provide care.
U.S. Army veteran Jessica Lynch, who was a prisoner-of-war in 2003 in Iraq, agrees the new facility could be a safe haven for women veterans.
“We do have female veterans out there ... there are so many that are forgotten,” Lynch said.
During the groundbreaking, Lynch explained how her unit was ambushed in 2003.
The vehicle she was in at the time was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, and several died in the attack.
Lynch was knocked unconscious and she was captured by Iraqi forces. She suffered a head laceration, several broken bones and other injuries.
Lynch was later rescued by U.S. Special Forces during a raid of an Iraqi hospital.
As she shared her experience Monday, she made it clear she wasn't seeking sympathy. Explaining what took place has helped bring attention to the issues women in the military face.
“I hate that my story does bring awareness for female veterans, but I'm glad that I'm able to be an advocate, I'm able to be a voice,” Lynch said.
She also sent a message for those who are facing challenges.
“No matter what you're going through, persevere, never give up,” Lynch said.
Dennis Wimer, director of the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs, thanked Farmer for pursuing the project.
“His personal dedication to do what he does pulls us all together,” Wimer said.
He also told Farmer the state's Veterans Affairs department will have a homeless veterans grant coming out, and he hopes Webb House will submit an application for it.
In addition to breaking ground for the facility, Farmer announced the Northwest Indiana National Organization for Women (NWI NOW) has become a partner for the new facility.
Julie Storbeck, board president of NWI NOW, said the organization will assist in “anyway and every way” it can. That can include offering volunteers and assisting with fundraising.
Storbeck said the top cause for homelessness for women with children is domestic violence and the Webb House facility is needed in the community.
“It's about time,” Storbeck said of such a building being constructed for veterans.