March 14, 2010 — -- Mickiela Montoya served her country for seven years. A military policewoman in Iraq, she faced mortar attacks and gunfire But when she came home, her bravery and her skills were useless.
A single mother without a college degree, she found herself on the streets.
"I don't fit the typical stereotype of a homeless person or how a homeless person would be or look," said Montoya, an articulate and attractive 24-year-old.
Neither does Alicia Watkins. A veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, she wound up homeless while struggling to cope her physical and emotional wounds.
"Your family, they want the person that they sent off to the war. And they will never get that person back," Watkins said. "So it's just a matter of trying to get them to understand that I will never be the same."
There are an estimated 6,500 homeless female veterans on America's streets, double the number of a decade ago, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Women veterans are four times more likely than their male counterparts to wind up homeless.
Dr. Diane West runs one of the few programs in the country specifically designed for homeless women veterans at U.S. Vets in Long Beach, Calif.
"Right now we have a program for up to 30 women veterans and I have a waiting list all the time," West said. "The women are coming back and they're depressed. Some of them are suicidal. Some of them don't know how to parent at all and they can be abusive to their own children."
Women vets face all the same issues as their male counterparts: post traumatic stress, sleeplessness and battle injuries. But they face additional challenges unique to them.
Many, like Montoya, are single mothers.
Montoya said she had to leave the army because she had no one to take care of her 2-year-old daughter.
"I went to the VA to ask if they had any type of daycare help or resources and they said no, she's not a veteran, we have help for veterans," Montoya said.
Finding a good paying job with money for child care has been tough, she said.
"My friends went to college and now they have careers," she said. "I dedicated seven years of my life to the military and it's as if it were for nothing."