Hello, I’m Robert Wilkie, Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. I’m honored to help celebrate Women’s History Month, pay tribute to women Veterans, and thank our VA women Veteran employees.
Women’s history and VA history are inextricably linked. In 1867, Emma Miller was appointed as the first woman employee of what would become VHA, when she was appointed as matron of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Dayton, Ohio. In 1890, the National Homes hired its first teams of women nurses, and two years later, Congress authorized the first Federal benefits for women—Union nurses during the Civil War.
By 1942, Edith Nourse Rogers – the first Congresswomen from New England, introduced the bill establishing the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. In 1944, she helped draft and co-sponsor the first G.I. Bill. Our Medical Center in Bedford, Mass., is named in her honor. In 1944, fight-nurse Lt. Aleda Lutz – second woman recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross – died over France while transporting 15 wounded. In her honor, we have the Aleda E. Lutz VA Medical Center in Saginaw, Mich. In 1946, Dr. Margaret Craghill – the Army’s first woman doctor – became VA’s first chief medical consultant on women Veterans’ care and helped select VA’s first team of women doctors. In 1962, neuro-psychiatrist Dr. Valerija Raulinaitis became VA’s first woman hospital Chief of Staff, and by 1971 the first woman hospital director. And just 5 years ago, in 2015, the US Air Force Academy recognized former VA Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey for achievement with its Character and Leadership Award. She was among the very first women to attend the Air Force Academy in the Class of 1980.
Today, women Veterans comprise about 10% of the Veterans we serve. That number will only increase as women are now about 20% of our military force. 41% of all women Veterans are enrolled with VA for care, and that number is increasing.
At today’s VA
Here at VA, women serve as our Chief of Staff, lead our modernization, benefit appeals, customer service and accountability offices, and our Center for Women Veterans. In fact, 60% of the VA workforce are women, and nearly one-third of them are Veterans! Our goal at VA is to be the place where women who have proudly served their country receive excellent care in a safe, sensitive climate where they feel at home. We’re making progress toward that goal, but we have more work to do. We can’t rest until all women Veterans feel safe knowing they will receive equitable, high-quality care and service in every corner of VA. It is up to all of us to warmly welcome women Veterans and to spread the word about the benefits and services they have earned. Together we can make a difference in the lives of our women Veterans.
To all the women who have worn the uniform, and to our VA women Veteran employees—thank you. Working together, we can ensure that all those who have borne the battle receive the care and benefits they have earned and deserve. Thank you, and let’s work to ensure we have a great Women’s History Month.