Karen Kuciver lives to help veterans.
Her organization Women Warriors held its first event last December to connect women veterans with local agencies.
In December this year, Kuciver, 49, will graduate with degrees in social work and liberal arts from Pima Community College, where she works part time helping veterans at the college.
She also volunteers as the liaison between PCC and the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System. On days such as Veterans Day, she goes early, handing out coffee and carnations to the men and women who served this country in the military.
Just like Kuciver's husband, a Desert Storm combat veteran who she says is now suffering from interstitial lung disease. The couple has been married for six years, although they have known each other since high school. Her husband served in the U.S. Army from 1985 to 1997.
Of the 18.5 million military veterans in the U.S. in 2016, 1.6 million were women, according to a recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs estimates that in 2016, roughly 515,000 veterans lived in Arizona. About 46,000 were women.
The way Kuciver sees it, these Americans already fought for her. Now she's returning the favor by connecting them to local resources and holistic help including equine therapy, yoga and peer support groups.
She connects women with organizations such as Army Wounded Warrior, Tucson Veterans Serving Tucson Veterans, Disabled American Veterans and others. Tucson's Veterans Affairs hospital also has a women's health program and clinic to provide specific care for women veterans.
At her events, representatives from some of these organizations show up to meet with women veterans and Kuciver gives out hygiene supplies and other needed products and services, such as haircuts.
We asked Kuciver why serving veterans is so important to her.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What does Women Warriors do?
"We are trying to become a nonprofit organization. We have had events sponsored by United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona. We help veterans who are experiencing hardship, homelessness, PTSD, military sexual trauma and joblessness. We have resources to help them. Right now, that's all I am is just a resource ... I'm not a veteran myself, but they're coming to another female and I can send them to a local agency or put them in touch with another female veteran ... I can also help if they're having financial hardships like lights getting shut off or getting evicted ... I'm backed by the Military Order of the Purple Heart, chapter 442. They're helping me with the emergency assistance fund."
What unique challenges do women veterans face?
"They're in a male-dominated world. Military sexual trauma is one of the hardships that they face ... To be sexually assaulted or raped by a fellow brother you're supposed to trust with your life, that is one of the main challenges. That's kind of my main focus. ... I want them to get help for that ... I'm trying to become an organization where they feel free to walk into our office and let us know exactly what's going on, and I can help them from there."
Why this area of focus? Not all women service members experience military sexual trauma.
"I'm a recovering alcoholic myself. I've been seven years clean and sober, and I can empathize. I've been in that situation, not in the military, but I've been raped. I'm a survivor. I'm a survivor of domestic violence. You live that lifestyle for 30 years and it's going to happen. I was homeless for about eight years ... and in and out of jail. But no one deserves to be beaten or raped, no matter what. Especially not our female veterans. They sign up to defend us, and for them to go through that sickens me."
What has your experience been like as the wife of a veteran?
"Fighting to get his benefits was overwhelming for me, and I can just imagine how it is for the veteran, so I took what I learned trying to get this done and the mistakes I have made trying to get him his due, and I figure that's what I want to do. I want to help our veterans. That's what I have been going to school for, to help veterans get the resources they need."
It sounds like this has become your whole life.
"I can't do enough for these people. They've signed that blank check for up to their lives. They deserve all the help that they can get, and I want to be that one person who can make a difference for them."
For more information about Women Warriors, visit facebook.com/womenwarriorstucson.