Women Veterans Committee Update September/October 2016

The Leadership Conference in Tucson was a great source of information. I hope the topics get back to your chapter. The Women Veterans webpage will have information about its National Cemetery seminar.

VVA member Cheryl Van Syckle of Texas has been instrumental in coordinating her state’s women veterans and starting a VHA Facility Information Outreach to Veterans survey. This survey is completed by women veterans as they go to their local VA hospitals for care. It is just a beginning review of what each VA facility has in place with regard to guideline standards for women veteran programs and military sexual trauma information. It will be great to forward that to National Women’s VA. This grassroots information is extremely helpful.

Congress includes four female veterans. They are a diverse group: Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) is a former Black Hawk helicopter pilot, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) served in the military police in Kuwait. Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) flew A-10s for the Air Force, and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) served in the Iowa National Guard. They are all in favor of instituting standards and policies to help recruit and retain more female troops.

However, they differ on how to address sexual harassment in the services. Reps. Duckworth and Gabbard support taking MST out of the chain of command and referring those cases to a military prosecutor. A new bill has been introduced after the failure of another in 2014. Rep. McSally and Sen. Ernst want the chain of command to remain in place and are waiting to see the effectiveness of heightened scrutiny.

All these women are in favor of having the government give more parenteral leave and fertility assistance options for active-duty troops. They all support the new Pentagon pilot program to help service members continue to have children, even if injured in combat. They all agree that more light needs to be shed on some of the lower profile and day-to-day issues of female personnel. That includes procurement of properly fitting gear (to be able to go to the bathroom easily in a flight suit, for example).

On July 22 Service Women Action Network (www.servicewomen.org) joined forces with the ACLU and a group of veterans and human rights organizations in a letter to the ranking members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees urging them to include language in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act that requires women to register for the draft. The groups include Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Reserve Officers Association, the American Association of University Women, Human Rights Watch, the National Organization for Women, and the National Women’s Law Center. I would love to hear how women members feel about this issue. Contact me at koharepalmer@vva.org

Kate O’Hare-Palmer, Chair

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