The VA is kicking off Women's History Month with the Women Veteran Athletes Initiative to raise awareness about female veterans.
Throughout March, 10 VA medical centers across the U.S. will showcase an exhibit of 10 women veterans with varying abilities, displaying their strength and resilience and the importance of physical fitness in their lives. The timing of this tribute is fitting, coming at the close of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, where nine active duty servicemembers - including two women - were members of Team USA.
The exhibit is a project undertaken by the VA's Center for Women Veterans, with the assistance of the Veterans Canteen Service, in partnership with Team Red, White & Blue, a nonprofit that seeks to enrich the lives of America's veterans by connecting them to their communities through physical and social activity. The VA hopes the exhibit will encourage women to stay active after military service and throughout their life and to take advantage of programs like VA Adaptive Sports and Recreation Therapy.
The 10 female athletes being featured include:
- Ardrena Bailey, an Army veteran who has participated in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in multiple sports.
- Ivanna Brown, an Air Force vet who has participated in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in multiple sports.
- Candice Caesar, an Army vet who's a triathlete and distance runner.
- Bernadine Donato, a Navy vet who participates in weight training, running, cycling, and Zumba.
- Mila Dimal, a Navy vet and runner.
- Cami Gage, an Air Force vet and triathlete.
- Indira Glennon, an Army vet and triathlete.
- Sarah Holzhalb, a Coast Guard vet whose athletic interests include running, biking, yoga, and basketball.
- Angela Madsen, a Marine veteran who participates in Paralympics shotput and rowing.
- Judi Roberts, an Air National Guard vet who has participated in the National Veterans Golden Age Games in multiple sports.
Women continue to enter the military in record numbers and remain the fastest-growing population of veterans in the VA health system. Yet, women don't always self-identify as veterans, and many report feeling unrecognized and underappreciated for their service.
As a veteran and user of VA health care, I can tell you VA has done a lot to help women feel more welcomed, including improving care in its medical facilities-but improvements aren't keeping pace with the demand and needs of women coming to the VA.
Displaying the Women Veteran Athletes Initiative exhibit at the front entrance of VA medical facilities is one way to help female veterans feel more welcomed and appreciated by medical facility employees and their male veteran peers.
The exhibit will be on display at the following VA facilities:
- Albany Stratton VA Medical Center, N.Y.
- Alaska VA Health Care System, Anchorage
- Atlanta VA Medical Center
- Dayton VA Medical Center, Ohio
- El Paso VA Health Care System, Texas
- Bruce W. Carter VA Medical Center, Miami
- Minneapolis VA Health Care System
- VA Portland Health Care System, Ore.
- VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System, Reno, Nev.
- Sioux Falls VA Health Care System, S.D.
Women veterans' health will also be a focus this month when MOAA testifies before the Senate and House Veterans' Affairs committees in a joint hearing March 14, outlining our legislative priorities for the year.
Since 2000, the number of women accessing VA health care has more than tripled, to over 700,000 enrolled in 2017. With the lifting of the exclusion of women from combat in 2015, the roles of women in military service continue to change, presenting an opportunity for the VA and DoD to collaborate on research and medical care in order to better understand the impact of military service on women's health.
Last November the United Health Foundation, in partnership with MOAA, released the Health of Women Who Have Served Report-a distinctive study, developed in collaboration with an advisory steering group of leading military, veterans, and public health organizations, including the VA.
The study found women veterans reported higher rates of cancer, mental illness, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and depression as compared to their civilian counterparts. Despite facing some higher rates of health problems, women veterans are tremendously resilient, which is why more than half of respondents reported being in good or excellent health.
Women veterans are strong and deserve to be honored for their service to our country. March is an excellent time to learn more about the Women Veteran Athletes Initiative and the many activities and resources available for women veterans by visiting the VA Center for Women Veterans.
Don't forget to watch the Senate and House Veterans' Affairs committee hearing March 14, or watch this newsletter for a recap of MOAA's hearing testimony to learn more about how lawmakers and the VA can help women veterans.