Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, a war-time surgeon and Civil War POW, was the first and only woman to receive the Medal of Honor. Today, many women follow in her footsteps, serving our nation courageously. Honoring Women’s History Month, I wanted to share three profiles of women veterans who are making “herstory” today.
Kristina Snell: Air Force Veteran and intermediary care technician at the Cleveland VA Medical Center
Kristina Snell, an intermediary care technician at the Louis Stokes VA Medical Center, in Cleveland, Ohio, began her career as a flight evac medic in the U.S. Air Force. When she left the military, she felt like she lost a sense of direction – even a purpose. Snell was forced to take a menial job to make ends meet because it paid more than working as an EMT, despite her extensive qualifications and leadership skills. However, through the VA’s Intermediary Care Technician Program, she had the opportunity to define her goals and direction in life. “It gave me that piece of my soul that was missing,” she said, “This isn’t just a job-for me it’s a lifestyle.” Snell’s enthusiasm to serve Veterans is not unique; she insists that all ICTs are highly motivated and Veteran-centered. Today, Snell works to help other military medics and corpsmen gain that same sense of purpose and fulfillment while serving as the ICT Program national field coordinator.
Christy Chai, M.D.: Air Force Veteran and surgeon at the Houston VA Medical Center
Dr. Christy Chai is a 9-year Air Force Veteran, currently serving as the section chief of general surgery and a deputy chief of operative care line at Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center. She began her active duty career in the Air Force as a general surgeon providing care both overseas and in the continental U.S. Recognizing the need for specialized care in surgical oncology, Chai pursued additional training enabling her to provide comprehensive cancer care and complex general surgical care for service members, their dependents and veterans. After separating from the military as a seasoned surgeon and educator, she continues to serve our Veterans in Houston and teach as a faculty at Baylor College of Medicine. One of the examples of Chai’s dedication to our Veterans was when she crossed flood waters during Hurricane Harvey to make her way to Veterans in need at the hospital. One of those Veterans, a former Army Ranger, developed excruciating abdominal pain while staying at a hotel two miles from the Michael E DeBakey VA Medical Center. With roads closed due to the flooding, the Veteran swam through flood waters to make it to the facility where Dr. Chai was there to take care of him. He said, “I came here in the middle of a hurricane, got laparoscopic surgery in the middle of the night from an amazing surgeon here.” Knowing the sacrifices our Veterans have made through the years, Chai believes that our Veterans deserve the best care anywhere and her mission is to “make the Houston VA the best place for patients, staff and trainees.”
Lauren Warner: Army Veteran, caregiver and VA patient
Lauren Warner is an Army Veteran. She’s also the wife and caregiver of a Veteran, daughter of a Veteran, and patient in the VA health care system. Warner grew up in an Army household, moving 10 times with her family before her father retired as a lieutenant colonel. After college, Warner enlisted in the Army as a public affairs specialist. For four years, she was responsible for running the social media for the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, The Old Guard. During her time at The Old Guard, she met her husband Seldon, also a soldier in the unit. Before coming to The Old Guard, Seldon was stationed with the 173rd in Italy and deployed to Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. There he survived a blast from a recoilless rifle and was later diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and PTSD. After they were married, Warner became a caregiver as well as a military spouse. In order to care for her husband, Warner left the military, and in doing so became plugged into the VA health care system. Last year, she found out she was pregnant and says she was “greeted with an abundance of support and the best health care resources in the Washington area thanks to the D.C. VA and women’s clinic in particular.” Unfortunately, she had a miscarriage, and painful as that was, says the resources and support center within VA gave her the best care possible to safely heal. After Seldon medically retired, he too began receiving his care through D.C.’s pain management clinic, traumatic brain injury clinic, integrated wellness clinic and other resources. Warner says, “not only are we grateful that this care is so close to home, but the fact that the quality of the care is held to the highest standard leads us both to be comfortable entrusting our healthcare to the VA.” Today, Warner serves other Veterans herself. She is a recent graduate of Dog Tag Bakery’s fellowship, which trains wounded Veterans and their spouses in business skills and helps empower them be successful in civilian life. As a result of this fellowship, Warner further honed her marketing and business skills and is currently freelancing as a social media consultant while continuing to serve as a full-time caregiver.
Join us in celebrating the thousands of women who have served our nation. March is Women’s History Month, but our women Veterans are changing lives and making herstory every single day.