DAV Member's Life Experiences Lead to High Honors

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Tennessee native Julia Sheriden knows the woes of women veterans. After graduating from high school, she left for Marine boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., and began building a military career.

But at the end of her third year, just before she was set to make sergeant, Sheriden was attacked by a fellow Marine.

“It was pretty brutal,” she recalled. “I was held captive for several hours and suffered a lot of injuries. I took a direct blow to both sides of my jaw and to the back of my head. Brain injury, stabbing—I almost died. And the Marine Corps response was kind of to ignore that it happened.”

Once she was able to return to work, Sheriden fought crippling headaches and cognitive issues. Shortly thereafter, her career dreams were ended when she was denied the opportunity to re-enlist. Worse yet, it seemed she would not be given a proper medical discharge for her injuries.

“At the time, I was so lost in my own injuries and trauma that I wasn’t able to fight for myself,” said Sheriden. “Then my mom said, ‘I’m going to come down there, and you’re going to ask for a physical evaluation board. And then you’re going to call the Disabled American Veterans.’”

In 1981, Sheriden went to DAV to file her disability claim and became a life member. Though she only received a rating of 10 percent, working with DAV helped secure her medical discharge and preserve her rights.

But after a few months of separation, she encountered problems similar to those faced by many veterans today. She was unable to work, her separation stipend was running out, she needed to find a permanent place to live, and there was no place to turn for help.

“I spent about six months homeless, just bouncing from couch to couch,” Sheriden explained. Though unsure about her eligibility for unemployment benefits, she finally decided to apply. “Lo and behold, there was a woman veteran there, and she sat down and gave me ‘The Talk.’”

“The Talk,” as Sheriden calls it, is one that she has been giving to her fellow veterans ever since. “It’s about believing in yourself, sticking it out, not quitting and finding a direction. It remotivated me.”

Sheriden went back to college and, while waiting in the VA office one day, met a veteran who was having trouble with his disability claim. He was rated at just 20 percent for a serious knee injury, so Sheriden helped him file for a higher rating.

“A few months later, the guy found me on campus and told me he was re-rated at  50 percent,” she said. “I just changed that day. Even though I couldn’t be an activeduty Marine anymore, I realized that I might still have importance.”

She began to get more involved with DAV, becoming a Chapter Service Officer and a Chapter Commander, all while continuing to battle the VA for 18 years over her own claim. These  experiences led her to establish her own nonprofit organization, Outreach and Resource Services for Women Veterans (OARS).

OARS was officially granted nonprofit status in 2012 in the state of Washington and assisted roughly 150 women in its first year. Sheriden’s program is a onestop online resource for women veterans, offering oneon-one consultation and links to resources for benefits, education, crisis assistance and trauma recovery services.

For her work with OARS, Sheriden was named the 2013 winner of the prestigious Washington State Jefferson Award, which recognizes individuals who exemplify outstanding community service.

“It’s such an honor, but this isn’t about Julia Sheriden. This is about veterans,” she said. “I think about the people whose claims I didn’t succeed with, who passed away before they got what they deserved. I feel like I’m honoring them when I accept the award, and I can talk to people about our lives as veterans. It tells people about how much dedication veterans have to helping other veterans.

“It’s really rewarding to know that people—thousands and thousands of them—respect what I do and what we do as DAV,” she said. “It shows that people realize women veterans have needs and issues, and the time to help is now, to make sure veterans are able to have the highest quality of life possible. This award kind of brings my life full circle.”

  • Anthony

    I certainly understand. I’ve fought the VA for 20+ years and even the DAV quit acknowledging me or returning my phone calls, letters etc. so I’ve gone it alone and I’m a Life Member.

  • DrDave8563

    Anthony, I’m like you. A Life Member and I can’t get any help or advice from my NSO. I’ve had about four service officers since my claim was submitted. I had to put it all together myself because they couldn’t help me – I could never reach them on the phone or get them to call me back. All I could do was fax them what I’d done and they’d just carry it over to the VA with a cover letter – no changes, no advice, nothing. Now I’ve had to ask for a DRO/de novo review and it’s been sitting there for almost 4 years with no action.

    My second claim sat for 3 years with no action, and VA decided to work on it when they decided to clean up all the claims older than 2 years. They even called me on a Friday and wanted me to waive sending them any more documents so they could close the case. I said “It’s been 3 years, I have to look and see what I sent you and what I’ve got that’s new. I know I lost my job, so that’s new. I’ll find everything and fax it to DAV, cause they’re my agent.” “Oh, don’t send it to them, it will just slow everything down!” Well, I got it all together over the weekend and faxed it to DAV, along with the story. They put a cover letter on it and walked it to the VA Monday afternoon.

    I got a copy of the denial letter in the mail on Wednesday! So VA had it one day and did the denial! They never even looked at the original or the new evidence. They had the things I’d claimed so screwed up it wasn’t even funny. They had matched up injuries from 30 years ago with injuries from the Gulf War and combined them into a single claimed injury! They had things I’d claimed that I hadn”t even claimed! It was a total joke. DAV just sent me a letter saying “Here’s what the VA said.” Lof of help that was.

    So now I’m working on my own appeal. No help from the DAV, I’m certain. They just talk a great game in their newsletters and magazine and on their website and in Congress, but they don’t really have the time or energy to help the real veterans out here struggling to get the VA to do the right thing. That’s way too much trouble for them to go to, I guess. I even donate money to them every year for their programs – just gave them another donation about an hour ago. You always hope the money goes to a good cause, like hiring an NSO to work in an office that’s too busy to return phone calls. I get the feeling it’s just paying for another night in a nice hotel room for someone in D.C. though, when they visit Congress to talk about what a great job they’re doing taking care of veterans!

  • Debra An

    I can definitely relate after the US Army separated me without a medical board with injuries that I sustained in the line of duty. I wonder if they do this more to women. It destroyed my life and my family. I have been so discriminated for serving my country, I feel betrayed by my country! I came home in a cast and crutches, with no medical insurance to remove the cast. I was misdiagnosed on active duty and everything they did for me caused me additional injuries, I have serious mobility issues. My civilian job refused to rehire me said I was a Liability. After that I lost physical custody of my only daughter! I soon lost my home and became homeless living in my car for 4 years and while in the Army Reserves I developed 3 incurable illnesses from the high stress that was caused by active duty in the US Army. I am still considered homeless according to San Diego County as I have been living in a 28-27 foot Motor home ever since and unable to work! Oh and my daughter (she was 3 when I lost her) she was given to my mentally and physically abusive ex where she still resides today! I wish I new what it was like to be a mother and raise my own child! I can not have any more children thanks to those illnesses! lost my life, my family and my livelihood! I was discharged honorable on 3rd May 2002! This has got to stop! The military should not be allowed to make people homeless as they have been doing!