SHELBYVILLE, K.y. — For Emily Hernandez, transitioning from sergeant in the Army to civilian took a toll she did not expect.
"I was just ready for the next chapter, and then when I started working on the civilian side, I just went into work, work, work. 'Cause that's what I was used to. And I started to feel so alone," she said.
After seven years of active duty in the Army and a tour in Afghanistan, Emily went back to her hometown of Shelbyville, Kentucky with her son and husband. When she got back to friends and family, something was missing – she could no longer relate to the people around her.
"I noticed it when I was working night shift and when I would come home, it was about a 20-minute drive. There's not a lot of cars on the road and you're just able to like, sit there with your thoughts. That's when I started to think, I was like, 'man, life is a lot different,'" she said.
In the U.S. – there are two million female veterans and although women make up only 9% of the military, it’s the fastest growing military and veteran population.
In a study published by Boston Medical Center this year, it was found that although female veterans were younger with less combat experience, they were more likely to have lifetime PTSD, depression, suicidal thoughts, and more likely to use lifetime mental health services, compared to male veterans.
Sherry Whitehouse says the root of the mental obstacles for many female veterans is finding the understanding and a sense of identity they had in service in their new role as a civilian. It’s something she struggled with until she found it in helping others like her – at Veterans Club.
"Our ladies definitely have been under served in the past and I'm grateful to the veterans club for allowing that space to be open, safe and supported," said Whitehouse.
The Kentucky-based organization helps more than 6,000 veterans by providing that missing link of understanding – providing healing through connection. Founder Jeremy Harrell said they started a women-only group because the need was great.
"It's a rare thing from what I understand and it shouldn't be, and we hope that this helps others go, 'We should probably do that too,' because there's some women out there who gave their all for the defense of this country. That are hurting because they don't feel like anybody cares," said Harrell.
Whitehouse is the leader of that program, helping women to open up and own every aspect of their self.
"That's one of the things that I've worked really hard to change just across the board with our ladies that it's okay to stand up, It's okay to say I served. It's okay to say that I need help," she said.
Though Hernandez has gone back into the service, she says the connections she's made at Veteran's Club with other women have helped her greatly.
"I didn't want to admit somethings in my own self-reflection. So when I would hear people in the veterans club explain their stories and it sounded a lot like mine. that's when I started feeling like, 'Oh, like I needed this.' And I think that equally they need me as well," she said.
She hopes other women take the step in finding a community that understands.
"Reach out and understand that you're not alone and once the military's over or even if it's not, you know, there's a big group of people that are here and we want to welcome you with open arms," said Hernandez.
Although Veterans Club is based in Kentucky, they are hoping to connect people across the country.
If you or someone you know believes they can benefit from their services, visit their website by clicking on this link.