The Massachusetts Department of Veterans' Services defended its outreach to women veterans after a scathing audit showed the department had identified just a tiny fraction of the women veterans in Massachusetts who are eligible for benefits.

“DVS continues to make progress to increase the capacity of its Women Veterans’ Network in fulfilling its mission serving as a resource to support women veterans in Massachusetts through education and outreach,” the department's communications director Linnea Walsh said in a statement to GBH.

The report by State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump's office, and released last week, said 1,500 out of 25,000 women veterans — just 6% — were identified by the Department of Veterans' Services between 2019 and 2021.

“We doubt, based on the data and other material provided, that most women veterans are aware of all the resources available to them through DVS," Bump said in a press release. "This is unacceptable."

The state noted that unidentified female veterans may be missing out on Chapter 115 financial aid, which can help pay for daily living expenses or medical costs or housing. They're also eligible for other military benefits, including property tax exemptions, tuition waivers, license plate and ID designations, veteran annuities and care at the soldiers’ homes, according to the audit. The state auditor's office sent its findings to Cheryl Lussier Poppe, secretary for the Department of Veterans’ Services.

State Sen. John C. Velis, an Army veteran and chairman of the Veterans and Federal Affairs Committee in the state Legislature, said women veterans are currently the fastest-growing demographic in the United States military.

“You're going to be hard pressed to find a veteran who wasn't a male veteran who wasn’t in a convoy with a female veteran. It’s time we recognize them,” he said. “We only have eyes and ears on 6%. That is reprehensible, we can and must do better.”

The report also found that the department did not convene an advisory committee for women veterans, as required by law. The audit said DVS had recruited only four service members for what was supposed to be an 11-member advisory committee.

Walsh, the DVS spokeswoman, said the department has revitalized the Governor's Advisory Committee on Women Veterans by appointing new members and restarting meetings.

Bump said in the release that officials in the veterans' services department responded to auditors' questions about the lack of services for women with specific instances of agency support.

“Isolated events, however, do not make up for the lack of overall strategic planning, policy development, and performance monitoring," she said.

Velis said better training for Veteran Service Officers is needed, and additional state funding could help improve outreach.