MASSILLON — The transition to military service or back to civilian life requires a big adjustment, something Kelly Wells understands quite well.

Wells, a Perry Township native, spent four years in the U.S. Marines. She worked with the information systems for an air wing in Yuma, Ariz., before developing a medical issue, which brought an abrupt halt to her military career in 2002.

It also led to a sudden adjustment which, she admits, caught her off guard.

“We knew I was getting out, but I didn’t know when,” said Wells, now the administrator for the Serving Area Military (SAM) Center. “I was out on a medical discharge after four years, and it just happened. They just showed up at my office, handed me my discharge papers and said, ‘Thanks. Have a nice day.’ That was a cold cut.”

Her life of routine and camaraderie quickly turned to uncertainty about what was next.

Any veteran goes through a period of adjustment upon returning to civilian life. Unlike a large percentage of veterans, though, Wells is female.

According to a 2017 Department of Veterans Affairs fact sheet, the most recent available on the department’s website, there are nearly 20 million veterans in the U.S. and its territories. Of that total, fewer than 2 million are female, accounting for 9% of the veteran population and 1.2% of the total adult female population.

“Women veterans tend to hide in the community,” Wells said. “They’re not as noticeable as the men. There used to be not many resources for us, and we do have a different set of needs than the guys do, because basically, we’re different.”

Those differences are why Wells is excited to see the Stark County Veterans Service Commission, led by Executive Director De Ann Williams, hosting its second annual Women Veterans Resource Fair on Saturday at the American Legion Post 221 in Massillon. The event, which runs from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., will have a variety of vendors on site — from social and educational to health, transportation and job services — to help with the needs of the veterans.

First step

For Wells, the most important aspect is letting the women know such programs exist. That was the first step she had to take after her discharge, and she knows there are many others who need to discover available resources.

Also important is the chance to connect with other female veterans.

“When I first got out, we didn’t have things like Facebook and social media to help us find each other,” said Wells, who was recently elected adjutant for Post 221. “There were times you felt alone in your battle.

“There are forms of (post-traumatic stress disorder) that women deal with that’s not the same as the men, and it kind of puts us in the shadows with nowhere to turn,” said Wells. “Now, with social media and the VA has stepped up and added women’s clinics everywhere and women’s groups, it’s helping us to connect with each other so that we can meet together and support each other and problem-solve any issues a woman vet is having.”

It’s not just the emotional support groups such as Women Veterans Network (WoVeN), which Wells this year helped bring a chapter to Stark County, can help provide. There’s also financial needs and navigating systems many women face after service.

Wells found herself in need of help when she moved back to Ohio after spending some time in Nebraska working with juvenile offenders. There were issues with records and benefits, as well as medication which she needed.

That led her to an event for veterans in Parma, where she started to find assistance. A call to then-Congressman Jim Renacci’s office, where she connected with Veterans Affairs assistant, Bryan Bowman, helped get the ball rolling.

“I was on medication due to a service-connected disability,” Wells said. “They wouldn’t transfer it; they wouldn’t give me the meds or refill anything. They were like, ‘Nope, nope, nope. We’re starting all over.’ That was frustrating. So, I reached out to my congressman’s office ... and (Bowman) started making the calls to help get that fixed.”

That connection also led to another opportunity for Wells. Bowman is the founder of the SAM Center, and almost two years ago, brought her on staff as an intern.

Today, Wells helps keep the office in order. She is responsible for most of the paperwork, as well as maintaining the databases of both the center’s clientele and its donors.

“There are things that she’s gone through that other female veterans have,” Bowman said. “Female veterans are a very small portion of our clientele. There’s that connection.”

 

Reach Chris at 330-775-1128 or chris.easterling@indeonline.com.

On Twitter: @ceasterlingINDE