Reaching Women Veterans Is A Challenge

 Female Veterans in Iraq. A New Resource for Female Vet on VA health care and benefits: 1-855-VA-WOMEN. Credit Department of Veterans Affairs

Female Veterans in Iraq. A New Resource for Female Vet on VA health care and benefits: 1-855-VA-WOMEN.
Credit Department of Veterans Affairs

What happens if you plan an event to honor women veterans and none of them come? That’s a real concern at the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 97 in Sarasota. The organization is planning a free event August 30th for the area’s women veterans, but so far, they’re having a tough time generating interest.

The Honoring Women Veterans in Sarasota event is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the DAV Chapter building, 7177 Bee Ridge Road, Sarasota. Veteran women from the Sarasota region can register for the event and day care by calling 941-580-0999.

“Our response, so far, has been lackluster,” said Michael Lannan, commander of DAV Chapter 97. “I’ll be honest with you, we’ve had only one person RSVP and we put out flyers and posters. The team that’s been putting this together has been going around to the different colleges. They’ve gone to the Vet Center. They’ve pretty much hit everywhere where there’s going to be women veterans.”

The chapter’s treasurer, Iris Johnson, is part of that team. She said a church group offering free school supplies to children of women veterans had the same problem.

“And they couldn’t find one single veteran woman with children and they had 25 slots that they couldn’t fill,” Johnson said. “They (women veterans) have to be somewhere. Somehow, we have to identify them.”

The Sarasota Disabled American Veterans Chapter 97 building on Bee Ridge Road.

The Sarasota Disabled American Veterans Chapter 97 building on Bee Ridge Road.

The chapter commander is adjusting to reach the younger, female veterans. They recently started a Facebook page and are learning about social media.

Getting messages out to veterans is the job of Karen Collins, communications director at Tampa’s James A. Haley Veterans Hospital.

“You have to use social media. You have to come at them in multiple avenues,” Collins said.

The Haley VA has a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a Youtube channel and Collins routinely posts photos on Flickr.

But there are other issues at work too. Capturing the attention of women veterans is one of the biggest challenges for Pam Smith-Beatty, the women’s program manager at Haley.

“Part of the problem is that women don’t often think of themselves as veterans,” Smith-Beatty said. “I served for 22 years in the Air Force. But when I think of a veteran, I think of my dad, a Korean War Vet. I don’t necessarily think of myself.”

National statistics show that women make up 15 percent of active-duty and 18 percent of the Guard and Reserves but only 6 percent of the VA population.

“We’re finding that for the OEF/OIF/OND veterans, they’re actually doing a good job at capturing them. About 68% of those veterans are actually using the VA,” Smith-Beatty said.

Yet overall, she said the VA is serving only about 40 percent of eligible women veterans.

“So how do you get the other 60 percent? We look at any kind of  recognition event,” Smith-Beatty said.

She started up educational sessions every other month called Pink Bag Lunch and Learns.  Only 17 attended the first Pink Bag event, but as many as 120 have attended. So Smith-Beatty offered some advice to the Sarasota chapter of the DAV.

“If you only get 15 people, then be happy because you’re reaching that 15 people,” Smith-Beatty said.

You can listen to the story on WUSF 89.7 FM Public Radio.

Obama: VA Disability Claims Backlog Is Shrinking

Veterans take photos of President Barack Obama as he works a ropeline after speaking at the Disabled American Veterans convention in Orlando, Fla., Saturday, August 10, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Veterans take photos of President Barack Obama as he works a ropeline after speaking at the Disabled American Veterans convention in Orlando, Fla., Saturday, August 10, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama acknowledged the obvious when addressing the Disabled American Veterans gathering Saturday in Orlando. He noted that there’s still a backlog of benefits claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

However, it’s just under 500,000 claims according to the Associated Press. And that’s smaller than the 611,000 claims backlog in March.

“Today I can report that we are not where we need to be, but we are making progress,” Obama said. “So after years when the backlog kept growing, finally the backlog is shrinking.”

A claim is considered “backlogged” if it’s been in the system for four months.

The president also unveiled a  national plan for prevention, diagnosis and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

Free Caregivers Conference this week

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have placed a harsh spotlight on the term polytrauma – more than one injury – a problem all too common for returning veterans.

Lee and Bob Woodruff (photo courtesy of People Magazine).

This critical issue will be the focus of the Second Annual Pathways to Resilience Caregivers Conference this Thursday, March 10th, at the University of South Florida Tampa campus. The keynote speaker is Lee Woodruff, wife of ABC News anchor and reporter Bob Woodruff..

This special daylong event is free, open to the public and focuses on the needs of family members and caregivers who are involved in the lives of veterans with polytrauma. It will be held at USF’s Marshall Student Center from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Lee Woodruff’s speech takes place at 11 a.m.)

While pre-registration has closed, you can still attend. On site registration is available at the Ballroom entrance on the second floor of the Marshall Center.

Bob Woodruff with his daughter Cathryn (left) and son Mack two days after he woke from a coma. Photo courtesy of the Woodruff Family.

Bob Woodruff sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury, TBI, when the vehicle he was traveling in was blown up by a roadside bomb while he was on assignment in Iraq in 2006. Together the Woodruffs founded, a non-profit organization that helps wounded service members.  Lee has become a national advocate and travels around the country raising awareness of traumatic brain injury and the sacrifices of service members and their families. She and her husband co-wrote the best-selling book, In An Instant, about their family’s journey to recovery.  She will sign copies of her new book, Perfectly Imperfect, at the event. (The book signing is around 12 noon during lunch).

There will be various breakout sessions and special presentations including, “Family Caregivers” by Dr. Steven Scott who is from the James A Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa where he serves as the Medical Director of the Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center. Dr. Scott is also the Principal Investigator of the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. In 2004, Dr. Scott was the recipient of the “Olin E. Teague Award”; it’s the highest honor for treating War-Related Injuries in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  He also received the “National Commander’s Outstanding VA Employee Award” from the Disabled American Veterans in 2007.

Dr. Linda Mona will give a talk about  “Dealing with Sexuality & Intimacy Issues.” Dr. Mona is a licensed clinical psychologist who has advocated for the sexual rights and sexual expression of people with disabilities for the past 15 years.

In addition, Father David Czartorynski will speak in a session titled “Resiliency through Faith & Spirituality.” Czartorynski is the acting chief of the Chaplain Service at the James A. Haley VA Hospital (JAHVA) in Tampa.  He specializes in pastoral care to spinal cord injury patients and polytrauma.

And Shealyn Holt, who is the Family Caregiver Coordinator at the Washington, D.C. office of the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, will talk about  “Caregiver Resources.” Holt conducts research on traumatic brain injury and advocates for patient and family education and support.

The day concludes with a CPR training session provided by the USF chapter of the American Red Cross.

I am personally thrilled to be helping to organize this event and am proud of my husband, USAF SMSgt Rex Temple who is volunteering his time as the emcee for the event.  Rex is stationed at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base, but he recently spent a year on deployment in Afghanistan where he was embedded with the Afghan National Army. While there, he completed more than 180 combat missions and was awarded the Bronze Star.

We both believe that having one trauma is certainly bad enough, but polytrauma presents a particularly unique set of problems that require a multidisciplinary approach to treatment. But, polytrauma also creates a unique set of demands on those closest to the wounded veteran – compounded injuries, compounded need for care and for understanding. This conference will go a long way toward helping people start to get a handle on the associated issues.

Note: A version of this blog post was first written by me and Barbara Melendez for the website.

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