JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A group of veterans and local organizations say female veterans have gone under-served and unfunded for too long.
First Coast News met with four local veterans from different branches of the military and different organizations who all came to the same consensus, insisting there is a problem in Jacksonville for women who served, despite Duval County having the highest number of female veterans in the state.
Hellena Pugh is a marine and founder of the Zahara Veterans Network. She is non-active duty now, but she’s fighting a different battle, for her fellow veterans at home.
"The City of Jacksonville is not doing the best it can for veterans right now so I’m not going to walk in a parade and pretend we’re friends," she said.
She says organizations make their parameters too tight, so women are often left out.
"They don’t give assistance to the veteran if they don’t meet the qualifying factors, and it’s discriminatory and it’s wrong," said Pugh. "Women just recently received the right to serve in combat, so prior to the past couple of years, there would be few women veterans who actually have combat experience listed on their DD214, that means if your organization requires combat experience, 95 percent of our women won’t meet that standard to get assistance."
Nicole Gray is a U.S. Army and Navy veteran and founder of Got Your Six Female Veteran Support Service. She says she knows how it feels first hand.
"Roughly four-and-a-half years ago, I was homeless and sleeping in a car here in Jacksonville. I went to various organizations for assistance, but because I didn’t have children and didn’t deploy to war I was ineligible for assistance," said Gray.
Right now, she is ineligible for any further assistance from the city because the city loaned her $200 back in June of 2014 to help pay for storage, but until she pays that back in full she can't receive any further assistance.
George Carroll is an Air Force veteran and a member of several organizations. He stands with the women in their fight for more funding, but he says it's a widespread problem impacting all veterans.
"If you want to stand up for someone, you’re marginalized, you’re put off to the side," he said. "There’s absolutely a transparency problem."
First Coast News brought their concerns on to the City of Jacksonville and the city recommended we speak with Deloris Quaranta, an Air Force Veteran and the founder of Northeast Florida Women Veterans.
"I started this back in 2012 because I didn’t see the resources available for women veterans," she said.
Quaranta says they could use more funding, but they deal with what they have because funding is limited for women.
"Those are the parameters, we have to accept that because the individuals who gave them that money set those parameters."
She hasn’t seen transparency problems with the city, but she admits she’s too focused on her support service to look into it.
"It takes time and it takes us speaking out, speaking out in the right way," she said. "Women we could say are the invisible veteran, and a lot of them feel that way like they’re the invisible veteran.,"
The city says they give out $50,000 in “micro-grants” every February thanks to the Jacksonville Jaguars Charitable Foundation.
Some of this year's recipients include Disabled American Veterans, Five STAR Veterans Center, Florida National Guard Foundation, K-9 for Warriors, Northeast Florida Women Veterans, Operation New Uniform.
In response to our questions regarding the funding, the city sent us the following response:
There are rules and criterion for all recipients of funds provided by the Jacksonville Jaguars Charitable Foundation. If fund recipients fail to meet the grant requirements or default on an interest-free loan (up to 10 months for reimbursement), they are ineligible for additional funds. Nicole Gray* has received nearly $3,000 from our Military & Veteran Affairs and Social Services Emergency Assistance departments for a variety of support services including delinquent rent, and storage unit payments. In addition, she, through our Military & Veteran Affairs office, has been connected to full-time employment and received referral support, as recently as last week, where she received $1,400 from grant recipient Northeast Florida Women Veterans. Ms. Gray is currently ineligible for additional Military & Veteran Affairs funds due to adherence failure on a previous loan.
As a result of the funds from the Jacksonville Jaguars Charitable Foundation, the City of Jacksonville administers $50,000 in micro-grants each February. The recipients this year include Disabled American Veterans, Five STAR Veterans Center, Florida National Guard Foundation, K-9 for Warriors, Northeast Florida Women Veterans, Operation New Uniform, and others. A press conference is hosted to announce the winners, contributing to clear transparency of its winners.
Despite what the city says, Gray insists she never received thousands of dollars from the city of Jacksonville. She claims their statement in untrue and she is only working to pay off the $200 loan. First Coast News has reached back out to the city for answers. This is a developing story.