BY KATE O’HARE-PALMER, CHAIR
These last few months have been busy with events supporting women veterans. March was Women’s History Month, and I hope that many of you were able to participate in programs held in your area. Each state’s department of veterans affairs has an appointed deputy secretary for women veterans. Each state also has a website that is a good resource for women veterans.
Memorial Day events at the Capitol, the Mall, and Arlington were well attended by your VVA national leaders. It was my first time being part of those heartwarming events.
Currently there are 2.2 million women veterans. Fifty-five percent of returning women veterans require some form of treatment. The traumas and transitions for these veterans affect them and their families. Women veterans are not immediately recognized by the public as veterans. Often, women do not consider themselves veterans. They will answer the question, “Have you ever served in the military?” with an affirmative, but will answer “no” if asked, “Are you a veteran?”
Women veterans are the fastest-growing group served by the VA. Services include mental health, reproductive health, sexual trauma, and other gender-sensitive issues. The VA is now recognizing some of the issues related to same sex-couples. Pilot programs provide childcare at some VA sites, as well as telecommunication for certain specialty care visits in outlying areas. A recent study in California of women veterans found that fewer than 30 percent use VA health services. Due to the current scandal about VA services, trust in services may drop even more.
June was PTSD Awareness Month and Suicide Awareness Month. Twenty-two veterans commit suicide each day. Several veterans service organizations have taken on the task of increasing awareness. The suicide prevention hotline 800-273-TALK(8255), as well as the mobile apps for PTSD Coach, are steps the VA has taken to help.
What is clear from the website is the consistency of the interviews with the men and women returning from active duty. Their transition is no different than ours was. Their stories will ring true for many women Vietnam veterans reading this column. We have a history of experience that can be invaluable to these returning veterans. You are a light in your community that may be needed by someone dealing with transition issues. It only takes one. Turn around, be present, and be involved.