As the most rapidly shifting demographic within the veterans’ community, women are projected to make up close to 18 percent of the total U.S. veteran population by 2040. That estimation from the Department of Veterans Affairs pinpoints what DAV knows is a key component of future operations: women veterans must have ample, dedicated support from advocates who know how to address the unique needs of this demographic.
For decades, DAV has been actively participating in congressional hearings, testifying on behalf of legislative changes that improve the equality and availability of the care and benefits earned by those who served.
The history between DAV and women veterans has grown, and DAV will continue to enhance its support of this unique group to ensure that all veterans receive the care and benefits they have earned through service.
As part of that continued commitment, DAV’s Women Veterans Interim Committee meets during National Conventions and the Mid-Winter Conferences to discuss ways to meet the needs of this unique group to ensure that all veterans receive the care and benefits they have earned through service.
Advisory Committee on Women Veterans
In 1983, the VA established the first Advisory Committee on Women Veterans. Even before its inception, DAV supported the idea of electing a panel of well-versed advocates who could identify critical issues and play an active role in changing policies and procedures to better suit the needs of women veterans. Two of DAV’s most recent members who served on the committee were Army veterans Latoya Lucas and Delphine Metcalf-Foster, DAV’s 3rd Jr. Vice Commander.
Center for Women Veterans
In the 1990s, DAV was among the veterans service organizations urging Congress to elevate the national women’s program to the secretarial level, resulting in the creation of the Center for Women Veterans in 1994. DAV backed the nomination of Vietnam veteran Joan Furey as the new office’s first director.
“This was the first, and to my recollection, only time in recent history DAV officially endorsed a specific nominee for a confirmable position,” said former Washington Headquarters Executive Director Dave Gorman. “We did so in recognition of the emerging importance of women veterans and the role they would play, particularly in the VA health care arena.”
Women Veterans Summits
DAV has co-hosted the national Women Veterans Summit with the VA for several years, focusing nationwide attention on women veterans’ physical and mental health care, homelessness concerns and resources to help them with claims and benefits.
“We were probably the first major VSO to hold a women’s summit in D.C.,” said Gorman. “In 1994, when Art [Wilson] took over, I approached him, and he gave the go-ahead. I would like to think that his willingness back then really set the stage for our sustained efforts and, to a large extent, the advances VA has made in women’s
Additionally, DAV has co-sponsored both Service Women’s Action Network Summits on military sexual trauma (MST), bringing further attention to the need for policy reform that protects male and female survivors of these crimes.
“The last year has brought about a great deal of change concerning the way MST cases are handled both in the military and in developing disability claims,” said Deputy National Legislative Director Joy Ilem. “I absolutely believe it is because we have all come together in this united front to push for the rights of those affected by these crimes.”
Stand Up for Women Veterans Campaign
Independently, DAV launched the Stand Up for Women Veterans advocacy campaign in 2010, which helped achieve the passage of the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act. This legislation authorized a study of the barriers to health care for women veterans, started a pilot program for counseling women veterans in retreat settings, established a child care pilot program for veterans receiving health care services at VA and authorized the Department of Veterans Affairs to furnish health care services to newborns of women who receive VA maternity care. In 2013, DAV updated content to the “Stand Up for Women Veterans” special publication, which was distributed to VA regional offices as well as numerous women veterans’ conferences, seminars and other events.
DAV has long been on the front lines of women veterans’ issues, thanks in large part to the course of action set by past National Adjutant Arthur H. Wilson, who, during his nearly 20-year leadership as National Adjutant, strongly supported the investment of time and resources necessary to understand the needs of this growing population. Current National Adjutant Marc Burgess continues this legacy, guiding the development of DAV’s services and endeavors to best accommodate all those who served.
“I’m proud to say we are the leader in advocacy and providing service to women veterans,” National Headquarters Executive Director Barry Jesinoski said. “DAV is continually working to ensure that genderspecific programs are implemented throughout the VA health care system, that wellness needs are being met and that women veterans are able to access the full range of care and benefits they have earned.”
Another way DAV has educated the public on women veterans’ issues was through its support for documentaries highlighting this critical subject matter. DAV sponsored Capitol Hill screenings of the films “Lioness” and “SERVICE: When Women Come Marching Home” before members of C ongress and their staffs.
In 2013, the DAV National Ser vice Foundation funded the PBS broadcast of “SERVICE,” documenting the transitions of eight service women following devastating physical and emotional injuries.
“We have been fortunate to have a number of unique opportunities to get the message out ab out DAV’s services, and we are always looking for ways to enhance our outreach abilities,” said Washington Headquarters Executive Director Garry Augustine.
National Service Officers
DAV has long recognized the unique experiences and expertise that women veterans bring to the workplace. Following the establishment of the National Service Academy in the mid-1990s, more women veterans began filling DAV’s service and leadership roles. Today, of more than 300 national and transition service officers in the field, more than 60 are women veterans.
“DAV recognizes, as an organization of veterans serving veterans, that the face of this community has changed,” said National Service Director Jim Marszalek. “We actively seek out and recruit women veterans to continue to expand their presence in our National Service Officer corps.”
Charitable Service Trust Grants
Grants through the DAV Charitable Service Trust have helped women veterans programs, services and memorials to flourish. “This includes support for the founding of the Women in Military Service to America Memorial at the entrance of Arlington National Cemetery and its related activities, as well as the Vietnam Women’s Memorial,” said Richard E. Marbes, Chairman of the Trust. The Trust has also supported the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation mentoring program and a number of women’s retreats, counseling programs and services that address the needs of homeless women veterans and their families.