Growing up, Navy veteran Rocio Palmero always felt a bit different. It was a sense she couldn’t shake as a young Latina woman in LA, where she couldn’t see herself following the expected get married-buy a house-have kids path right out of school, it was something that followed her through her two years of active duty and 12 years as a reservist woman in the Navy, and it’s something she still feels a bit, even now. About 10 percent of veterans in the US are women, but, across the country, less than 2 percent of women are veterans, according to the Labor Department.
“We are part of an exclusive club — a minority of a minority,” Palmero said during Thursday’s R29 Twitch stream, which was held during Military Appreciation Month. “Not everyone can claim to be a veteran, and not everyone can claim to be a woman and a veteran.”
Speaking with Refinery29 Entertainment Director and Twitch host Melissah Yang, Palmero spoke candidly about the many challenges veterans face — struggling with mental health, housing, and finding meaningful employment — which are often amplified for women veterans. Palmero recalled a moment during her post-active duty job search when a recruiter told her to exclude her military experience from her resume without giving that same advice to the male veterans in the group. And that’s just one story from her own experience. In the male-dominated field, women veterans are often made to feel like their service is not as valuable, Palmero says, as if it is volunteer work they didn’t have to choose — something she is fighting to change.
Enter the Call of Duty Endowment. Co-founded by Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, the endowment began in 2009 as a way to honor the actual people who inspired the popular game franchise by helping them find high-quality careers. As Helene Imperiale, senior director of corporate social responsibility and Call of Duty Endowment marketing, told Yang during the stream, when veterans find meaningful employment post-service, they are better equipped to tackle other challenges they may face, such as struggles with mental or physical health. Since 2009, according to Imperiale, the organization has helped place 118,000 vets into high-quality jobs (that’s enough to fill the largest football stadium in the U.S., and then some, btw) — more than 17,000 of which have been women. And during every Military Appreciation Month, Call of Duty also reaches out for player support through in-game activations and launches, like the in-game Valkyrie Pack, which launched this week and includes the Endowment's first female operator skin.
Overall, the COD Endowment has provided $73 million worth of grants to organizations like Women Vets on Point, a rare not-for-profit within U.S.Vets dedicated to supporting women veterans where Palmero now works as the program coordinator. “There’s something really special about our program, because it’s [for] an overlooked population,” Palmero said, visibly moved. “I’ve never had people to encourage me in embracing my being a veteran. The fact that they would even care enough to say, ‘We want this money to be set aside for this,’ is incredible.”
Now, through her work, Palmero gets to help other women veterans, too. Her guiding principle is to make sure military women don’t feel alone in their struggles like she often did when she first returned to “civilian” life. Women Vets on Point helps find shelter, finding jobs, therapy services and provide welcoming environments where women can come together, feel less isolated and safely share their experiences without feeling like they have to prove their service or value. And, crucially, Palmero gets to work on her own trauma, which is essential not only for her own wellbeing, but if she wants to keep helping other women as well.
“I get to get up every single day and make a difference in people’s lives and heal from the things that I’ve gone through. You can tell me all day long, ‘Thank you for your service,’ she said. “But the Call of Duty Endowment shows me that they’re grateful for our service. And I get to share that with my sisters.”
To any women veterans out there, Palmero shared a final takeaway in three parts. First, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Second, there is never any shame in asking for help. And third? “If you don’t do it for yourself, do it for those who are going to come after you. Do it for those who died and whose shoulders we stand on — we stand on the shoulders of giants, so do it in their memory and ask for that help,” she said. “One of the things I tell women after our group is that we thank you, we see you, and we’re here for you.”