The VA Advisory Committee of Women Veterans recently conducted its annual site visit to the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System which includes the Jack Montgomery VA Medical Center and its facilities. The visit was a phenomenal experience. Our purpose for visiting this particular location was for us to see firsthand how VA provides service to rural women Veterans and to understand the challenges women Veterans who live in rural areas face in accessing VA benefits and services.
As we toured the Jack Montgomery VA Medical Center and the Ernest Childers VA Outpatient Clinic in Tulsa, the vivid spirit of enthusiasm and cohesive teamwork among the staff as they cared for Veterans was readily apparent. The women Veterans who reside in this region are provided with the opportunity for gender-specific health care by a Women’s health primary care provider. The women Veteran’s specialty care team treats an exhaustive list of mental health symptoms and illnesses. The medical center and the Childers Outpatient Clinic shared with our committee how they have developed an innovative and systematic approach, through outreach clinics and services, to successfully connect women Veterans in the rural communities to clinical services.
The site visit also included a tour of the Muskogee Regional Benefit Office, which operates VA’s only national education call center, where we learned more about how their employees serve Veterans in Oklahoma and across the nation. Both the committee and the Center for Women Veterans team members who supported our visit were pleasantly surprised and proud to see many wall pictures and artifacts displayed throughout the regional office and other facilities (as shown in the photo above) that recognized the long and diverse military service of women—who have served in traditional and contemporary roles, during wartime and peacetime.
The committee also toured the Fort Gibson National Cemetery, which allowed us to pay tribute and honor our Veterans. The grounds were immaculate, keeping to NCA’s vision of measurable excellence, and the director and staff notably hospitable. While there, we saw the grave of Medal of Honor awardee Jack C. Montgomery (after whom the medical center is named) and learned the story of a legendary woman who served disguised as a man. We were also able to see samples of both the new pre-need certificate and the medallions available for use on existing privately purchased headstones.
We were also able to fit in opportunities to learn about topics beyond what VHA, VBA, and NCA do for Veterans in Eastern Oklahoma. For example, Muskogee, where the medical center is located, is rich in American Indian history. Staff from VA’s Office of Tribal Government Relations and the Center for Minority Veterans’ American Indian liaison educated us on issues impacting American Indian Veterans’ access to care, and staff from the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System explained how this population of Veterans is served and we visited the Five Civilized Tribes Museum to provide additional context about the disparate challenges facing this population and to better understand the tribes’ history in Muskogee. U. S. Congressman Markwayne Mullin took time out of his busy schedule to talk with us during lunch about how he is proud to serve Oklahoma’s Veterans, and shared some of the initiatives available for them. We toured a Vet Center in Tulsa to learn about the readjustment counseling they provide Veterans. And finally, the committee held a town hall to hear directly from women Veterans in the local community.
Overall, the site visit provided an excellent opportunity for the committee to learn more about how VA is serving women Veterans in Eastern Oklahoma. The insights we gained will contribute to the recommendations we craft for the biannual report we will submit to the Secretary in 2018.
About the author: Retired Army Colonel, Edna Boyd Jones is a member of VA’s Advisory Committee Women Veterans.