“It’s not enough to just do something, but what do we need to do?” Secretary Eric Shinseki asked a room full of women Vets at the 5th National Training Summit on Women Veterans.
Over 700 women Veterans, active duty women service members (including the Reserves and National Guard), VA employees and advocates gathered in Washington, DC July 16-17 to answer the Secretary’s question: What does VA need to do for female Vets? The summit is part of an ongoing effort to expand outreach and raise awareness about the services available for women Vets. The conference also acted as a catalyst for new and fresh ideas.
VA knows all eyes are on them; the current women Vet population is at 1.8 million with an expected growth of four percent over the next several years. In the past ten years alone, the number of female Vets using VA services has nearly doubled from 160,000 to 315,000. More articles have been written about women Veterans the last few years then in the previous 25. It is safe to say that the country is watching as VA cares for her who has borne the battle.
Female Veterans from all eras listened as Shinseki announced the launch of a free, drop-in childcare pilot program. The services are offered to Veterans who are eligible for VA care and visiting a facility for an appointment.
“It’s about time…” women whispered to one another after the announcement.
As the pilot program launches in Northport and Buffalo, New York and Tacoma, Washington, Secretary Shinseki is actively preparing for the next wave of female Veterans in other ways, too. He announced the creation of the newly formed VA Task Force on Women Veterans with the Department of Defense. The task force will focus on several issues facing women Vets, including mental health, gynecology and obstetrics, Military Sexual Trauma (MST), family services and homelessness. The task force will take on programming and planning—with input from the public—to set the course for future generations of female Vets.
During the summit, I heard the concerns of women Veterans participating in the various break-out and plenary sessions. The women there wanted clarification on MST regulations, VA’s plans to help homeless Vets with children and answers to why claims were taking a year to process.
As a former Army Reserve soldier, I was eager to attend the “Linking Reserve/National Guard Women Veterans…Deployed and at Home” workshop. The four women on the panel spoke candidly about the transition back into the civilian world, asking, “When do you ever get normal again? You feel like you’re going crazy.” The feeling of going crazy and not understanding why—as one panelist stated—would a “civilian would get so upset when McDonalds gives him a hamburger instead of a Big Mac?” hit home with me.
While the summit addressed ongoing challenges, it also showcased the ways in which VA has transformed since the last summit three years ago. The Department has turned to Facebook, Twitter and blogging to get information on benefits and services to Veterans. When Shinseki asked for opinions on what VA can do for female Veterans, I posted the question on VA’s official Twitter account and the suggestions began to roll in:
“Female physicians, therapists, and evaluators for all things, not just gynecological exams.”
“Make it easier to get help for MST, provide more childcare during services and for single moms who are in school.”
”Train more female VSOs and hire more women veterans and women doctors/psychologists/health care providers.”
As VA transforms benefits and services for female Veterans during the next several years, I urge you to help shape new policies and programs. Your suggestions and input will undoubtedly affect those currently in uniform and those already in the VA system. Please email your suggestions on how VA can better serve women Veterans to 00W@va.gov. For more information on women Veterans’ services and benefits visit Center for Women Veterans.
Below are photographs of the 5th National Training Summit on Women Veterans.