5th National Summit on Women Veterans

“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.

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11 Comments to “5th National Summit on Women Veterans”

  1. Carolyn says:

    The 2011 conference was better than 2008′s, especially in addressing female Veterans of the current wars. However, there is still plenty of room to grow and improve.

  2. Rebekah says:

    I found the summit to be disappointing. The VBA was glaringly absent from pretty much everything and it seemed like one big pat on the back as opposed to actually looking at problem-solving. I know that a lot has been accomplished but there is much work to be done and completely ignoring those issues doesn’t make them go away.

  3. Jennifer says:

    Way to go sister girlfriend. Great post.
    I agree with Carolyn and Rebekah, instead of telling the 700 women how great the VA is, maybe we can go workshops on helping to makes changes to VA policy. Make us part of hte process and not just an audience.

    Also putting a panel on during lunch and telling us to ‘eat silently’? Please.

    • Carolyn says:

      All participants just received a survey via email, we need to make sure we address our concerns in this.

  4. Catherine says:

    I was reading about what occured at the conference. It appeared to be a very well orgainized and informed program on issues that every woman who is or has been in the Uniformed Services would want to be appraised of.

    In the Washington Post Fed Section was a very interesting article with direct implications on any participant at todays’ conference who participates in Tricare or Tricare prime for Life. Sen. Coburn,R.OK, believes we have been getting a break we do not deserve and further more would move the cost up so far past what we now pay.

    Sen. Coburn is himself a Veteran so this comes from someone who should care but no what he wants is that those of us who strugg;e to make ends meet in retirement have no chance at all. This is after being paid near povert wages for twenty years or more, deployments to who knows where, doing every
    task with pride and why, because for us there is no other way to serve.

    But Shylock wants His pound of flesh well let him have it with out any blood from us.

    Catherine A. Whliley,DT1,USN,Ret

  5. Jalica says:

    I agree there needs to be workshops established in all states in all major cities to afford women the chance to become apart.

    Sometimes its like drowning in a tub of salt after we face the attacks of striving with nothing.

  6. Nlck says:

    Its a start, I did 3 yrs. in 70′s never burdened the VA for financial assistance or health concerns. Only education, but if you don’t request they don’t know what we need. After 22 yrs chronic medical issues all probably service connected but denied. However, for others the VA is starting to listen and address the VA responsibilities. The main issues are as I see it, Medical Care for the lower income vet, homelessness, wOMEN IN SERVICE NEEDS, and the TBI/PTSD. It took me 35 yrs to seek assistance thru VA as a category 8. So far everyone has seen me as if 30% or higher rated vet, BUT ONLY 10% SCD not requiring management. Needless to say my complaints are trivial. However, our OIF/OEF/GULF WAR Vets and Agent Orange need as much support they can get before they’re gone. I know its not a perfect world. The VA needs to look to the future and prepare itself for the pyschological and physical disabilities incurred from Iraq and Afghanistan especially from PTSD and not exclude the Service Women Vets.

  7. Way to go sister girlfriend. Great post.
    I agree with Carolyn and Rebekah, instead of telling the 700 women how great the VA is, maybe we can go workshops on helping to makes changes to VA policy. Make us part of hte process and not just an audience.

  8. Kym says:

    As usual the VA again misses the point with another “summit,” where the upper echelon touts the benefits of the “great services available to female veterans, and yet, once you cross the thresholds of your local VA hospitals, the “summit” quickly transform into a slippery slope into Hell… It is ridiculous that these meetings are not more beneficial to female veterans, since most of the attendees are the staffmembers of the VA, and little or no notification is provided to the female veterans these summits are met to serve… Yeah, with my limiteds income, i can really afford to spend several days in Washington DC in a hotel, when I am concerned about maintaining myself from homelessness, medical mistreatment, sexual assualt, gender discrimination, failure of services, the denial of services, childcare while receiving medical care, transportation, medication fromulary requests, counseling for PTSD/MST/sucide Prevention; and all while trying to maintain my family, as the sole head of household provider, as I provide caregiving for my special needs adult child, my granddaughter, and my elderly parents with Alzheimers disease… Yet, I can travel to DC to learn of services that DO NOT meet my needs or the hundreds of other female veterans, who are much tyounger than me, as they try to fathom the inadequate services, where our Women Health cooridnators rotate faster than the revolving door leading into our medical facility… I think that the main issue that Shineski needs to ask is “Why needs to change?” Like the revision of all the hierarchy in to the VA systems, where the directors are more shielded than the body parts xrayed in radiology; where there IS NOT an effective system of reprtoing Sexual/gender/handicapped discrimination not just from the opposite gender, but the medical personnel, the staff and employees, the same sex, and the contractors who were “hired,” to support the veterans, except if you are female, you are continously attacked for your gender difference, even more than the attacks you suffered in your military service… If you want to make changes, try doing to the places WHERE THE WOMEN ARE… That is why the VA fails, because it hasn’t moved forward to the 21st century, and still works from the “safety,” of the marbled halls of DC… For if you contact this veteran, I have more stories of women who has suffered, and it is not getting better… As a former corpsman, I have not forgotten to “reach back, and give a fellow soldier a hand, however, my vision had to shift to reach out to my SISTERS who are hurting, and the system where we live is not for the women, who enter its’ dorrs. I have collected so many stories of pain form the VA, that I cannot longer keep quiet, because, my “Sisters” are hurting, and their needs are not being met… I welcome the providers of the women’s health program to come to my region, and speak to the women I have met, because their stories would make you “stop cold” in your tracks… Because you would question how does this occur? It is terrible to retraumatized while serving your country, and again in the hospital meant to treat you… It is time for a house cleaning, and the VA needs to begin making changes, where women veterans are not discriminated upon… It amazes me that the entire federal government had a mandatory standdown in the 80s and 90s for issues that effected the overall welfare of those individuals who served their country, however, this same method of correction has NOT been provided consistently, and has reprimands where if you do not comply, you need to go… The rampant amount of discrimination, harrassment, reprisals, and denial of care because you “blow the whistle,” is not maintained, and includes the veterans who utilize these facilities… Revision of the Patient Contact Representatives into their own SEPARATE chain of command, where reprisals for doing WHAT IS CORRECT AND LAWFUL, since the current system, only patches the most noisest problem… The issue of Quality Assurance, and utilizing best practices for ALL aspects of how the VA functionns, does not seem to trickle down to effective care for the veteran, except to further deny or hinder their care. The Dependent Care medical care program needs revision,and the use of Tricare is NOT effective in this region, most facilities DO NOT accept! So, when the VA wants women veterans to enter into their services, maybe it would be better, if the VA revised its system, to be more effective, because it sucks in the NY/NJ/PA region… Especially if you are homelessness or reaching the point of becoming one, because women recieve the scraps, and normally, there answer for help is, “No, we do not do that!” So, when you tout the services you described in DC, maybe you should send a “sectret veteran” throug hto see if the programs actually do work, an stop leading already fragile veterans, down a road of further self-destructive, initiated by the renegade VA hospitals who do not comply… Bet, you would be really surprised…
    Oh, and another thing thagt really angers me is that our facility spent thousands of dollars to installed flatscreens televisions into the main waitng areas to present public announcements to the vaterans of what is occuring in the VA as a whole… The one thing that pisses me off is the these TVS are being used for staffmebemrs and their upcoming training information, maybe, I might have been able to learn to the upcoming events that matter to me as a veteran, if the televisons provided more veteran-centered information, since the hospital staff has access to the ENTIRE computer system where education programs can run a sceensavers, upon opneing the database. for those staffmembers with limited access the installation of worksit spcific computer or television information can run in their employee staff areas, and allow the decimination of Veteran related information, such as upcoming WOMEN HEALTH INFORMATION, could be permanently and consistently appear for better promotion of issues that relate to me, for if you want me to participate, INCLUDE ME!!! The staff have far more venues to gain education, health, or employedd related matters… For me the one to two hours I am walking through the hospital, I could gain better inclusion, if you afforded me better notification of upcoming events that pertain to me… that is why most females do not participate is because they are exclude or notified TOO DAMN LATE!!!

  9. You certainly deserve a round of applause for your post and more specifically, your blog in general. Very high quality material.