Changing VA’s Motto Could Hurt The Actual Needs Of Women Veterans

Opinion
VA photo

In 2007, I joined the Marine Corps and proceeded to spend five years resenting the term “Female Marine” — or more simply “Females.” Even at the age of 19, I considered myself a feminist, but to me that meant being equal to my male peers, not segregated by my gender. The day I humped back from the Crucible and my drill instructor gave me my Eagle, Globe and Anchor,  Sgt. Joint didn’t say, “Congratulations, you’re now a Female Marine.” Joint said, “Congratulations, you’re now a Marine.”


Now, I work in Washington, D.C., representing nearly 2 million members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and their families on Capitol Hill. I have a portfolio specifically focused on women veterans, and I now say “women” instead of “female” because I respect the difference between sex and gender. Up until recently, women made up such a small percentage of the veterans population that VA simply didn’t have enough of us around to be the subject matter experts in gender-specific care. Now they’re willfully playing catch-up. Women veterans are expected to have a larger population than that of the entire population serving in the military by 2030.

Recognizing in 2016 that veterans service organizations lacked the necessary information to effectively represent women veterans’ needs and challenges, VFW’s women’s committee conducted an extensive survey and gathered data from thousands of women. We then used the results to identify four major areas of concerns across all generations: 1) a lack of access to gender-specific health care, 2) limited outreach to older generations, 3) more recognition as veterans who selflessly served their country, 4) and more solutions to the specific barriers homeless women veterans face.

VA photo

These are complex problems that require advocacy, funding, awareness, research, and collaboration between Congress and the VSOs in order to bring to fruition — no small task in 2017. Still, one veterans group has decided a much more important issue is to change the VA’s motto: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” — a quote from President Abraham Lincoln, which the organization deems “sexist” and “ignores and obscures the needs of women veterans.”

While the cause is noteworthy, the actual implementation will cost money. Not pennies, not quarters – but most likely millions in taxpayer dollars. The cost of updating every pamphlet, every website, every letter head, every “Welcome to VA” sign, and the infrastructure of every chiseled motto will financially add up quicker than some may think. Meanwhile, there are dozens of other legislative changes needed to improve the quality of care women veterans receive, which all also cost money.

Additionally, nowhere in the thousands of open-ended responses VFW received in 2016 did anyone request to change the pronoun used in VA’s motto or to change the quote at all.

What we did read over and over again is that one of the biggest barriers homeless women veterans face when trying to overcome homelessness is child-care access because they can’t make appointments without making sure their kids can go somewhere safe. Women aren’t going to worry about the VA’s motto on a sign if they can’t get to an appointment.

Private-sector insurance does not charge copayments for preventive medicine because it’s cheaper to prevent disease than it is to treat it. Yet, thanks to law written by Congress, the VA is required to charge for nine out of the 11 of these medicines, three of which are women-specific: prenatal vitamins, contraceptives, and breast cancer-prevention pills.

There’s also a dire need by former servicewomen for group-therapy access for sexual-assault survivors, but not all VA facilities have enough female patients to warrant this resource. Therefore, at the very least, the VA needs to expand telehealth services and allow more women to electronically partake in these sessions.

In other words, women veterans need health-care providers who understand our gender-specific needs. They also need advocates who will hold Congress accountable and make sure the VA has the funding necessary to not only fill shortages but train more providers. This includes everything from pap smears to postpartum counseling. VFW is doing that and won’t give up until women receive the same treatment and high-quality care as men.

U.S. Marine Corps photo

All these inequities require money, a lot of money. The priorities for where taxpayer dollars for women veterans must go are clear: care and benefits. Resolve the inequities.

I use VA for all my health care, whether it’s related to my sexual assault, mental health, primary care, gynecology, or physical therapy. Sure, it would be nice to one day walk into my clinic and see a motto that acknowledges my service too. Or get to a point where we don’t need gendered pronouns at all — but not at the expense of improved services.

Action is a gender-neutral verb; and action, not words, is what we should all be focusing on.

Kayda Keleher served in the Marine Corps from 2007-2012 with one tour in Afghanistan. She works as an Associate Director  for National Legislative Services at VFW where her legislative portfolio covers health care, homelessness, and women veterans.

A big stereotype surrounding U.S. service members and veterans is that they are defined only by their military service, from buying "Dysfunctional Veteran" t-shirts to playing hard-boiled, high-octane first-person shooters like Battlefield and Call of Duty (we honestly have no idea where anyone could get that impression).

But the folks at OSD (formerly called Operation Supply Drop), a non-profit veteran service organization that aims to help troops and vets connect with each other through free video games, service programs and other activities, recently found that most of the gamers they've served actually prefer less military-centric fare like sports games and fantasy RPGs.

Read More Show Less

The fog of war, just kills, and war crimes are the focus of a new documentary series coming to STARZ. Titled Leavenworth, the six-part series profiles 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, the Army infantry officer who was convicted on murder charges for ordering his soldiers to fire on three unarmed Afghan men on a motorcycle, killing two and wounding the third, while deployed to the Zhari district in Kandahar province, on July 2, 2012.

Read More Show Less
Joel Marrable (Laquna Ross via CNN)

Dawn Brys got an early taste of the crisis unfolding at the largest Veterans Affairs hospital in the Southeast.

The Air Force vet said she went to the Atlanta VA Medical Center in Decatur last year for surgery on a broken foot. But the doctor called it off because the surgical instruments hadn't been properly sterilized.

"The tools had condensation on them," recalled Brys, a 50-year-old Marietta resident. The doctor rescheduled it for the next day.

Now the 400-plus-bed hospital on Clairmont Road that serves about 120,000 military veterans is in a state of emergency. It suspended routine surgeries in late September after a string of incidents that exposed mismanagement and dangerous practices. It hopes to resume normal operations by early November as it struggles to retrain staff and hire new nurses.

The partial shutdown came about two weeks after Joel Marrable, a cancer patient in the same VA complex, was found covered with more than 100 ant bites by his daughter. Also in September, the hospital's canteen was temporarily closed for a pest investigation.

The mounting problems triggered a leadership shakeup Sept. 17, when regional director Leslie Wiggins was put on administrative leave. Dr. Arjay K. Dhawan, the regional medical director, was moved to administrative duties pending an investigation. Seven staff members were reassigned to non-patient care.

The only question for some military veterans and staff is why the VA waited so long. They say problems existed for years under Wiggins' leadership, but little was done.

Read More Show Less

The former Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs thinks that the VA needs to start researching medical marijuana. Not in a bit. Not soon. Right goddamn now.

Read More Show Less
Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney takes questions during a news briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., October 17, 2019. (Reuters/Leah Millis)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump's withholding of $391 million in military aid to Ukraine was linked to his request that the Ukrainians look into a claim — debunked as a conspiracy theory — about the 2016 U.S. election, a senior presidential aide said on Thursday, the first time the White House acknowledged such a connection.

Trump and administration officials had denied for weeks that they had demanded a "quid pro quo" - a Latin phrase meaning a favor for a favor - for delivering the U.S. aid, a key part of a controversy that has triggered an impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives against the Republican president.

But Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff, acknowledged in a briefing with reporters that the U.S. aid — already approved by Congress — was held up partly over Trump's concerns about a Democratic National Committee (DNC) computer server alleged to be in Ukraine.

"I have news for everybody: Get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy," Mulvaney said.

Read More Show Less