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The Challenges Women Veterans Face

By Bridget Lattanzi OIF Veteran and VHPI Steering Committee Member

I was telling another nurse about my chronic tinnitus - ringing in the ears. Sometimes it gets so bad, it keeps me from sleeping. Tinnitus is actually one of the most common conditions among veterans because we’re around loud machinery and in the field surrounded by various other loud noises. She said it wasn’t possible for me to have that much hearing damage “as women weren’t put into combat near explosions.”

I also have muscular-skeletal issues from lifting heavy equipment and supplies. Nobody could seem to make the connection between those issues and my service - until a random nurse pulled me aside while I was limping through a VA hallway. They sat me down, talked about my issues, and then connected me with different departments within the hospital to figure out what was causing my chronic pain issues - and eventually get me on a care plan. And before the VA, no one connected any of these issues to post-traumatic stress. At the same time, I’ve been asked while at the VA by a VA staffer if I was waiting at the pharmacy for my husband’s prescription. That type of sexist attitude and, sometimes, open harassment, is also displayed by my fellow veterans who are men.

Unfortunately, being dismissed as a woman veteran isn’t just my own experience. Veterans face many challenges when trying to obtain the healthcare they need. Women veterans - the fastest growing group of veterans - are even more misunderstood or overlooked. On Friday, June 26, the Veterans Healthcare Policy Institute put together a panel of women veteran leaders from some of the largest veteran advocacy organizations to discuss how care can be improved in the VA and the private sector. Register for it here.

Suzanne Gordon, journalist and author of Wounds of War, will lead the discussion with:

Tammy Barlet, an Associate Director of the National Legislative Service for the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. She served eight years in the United States Coast Guard as an Operation Specialist Third Class Petty Officer. In 1998, she patrolled the Persian Gulf on the USCGC Chase (WHEC-718) for Military Interdiction Operations (MIO). During this patrol, USCGC Chase diverted four vessels in violation of United Nations Sanctions against Iraq, interdicted 1,527,740 gallons of fuel oil, and conducted eighty-six gunnery exercises. In 2017, Tammy received a Bachelor of Science in Public Health from Temple University, Philadelphia, Pa. She completed the Master of Public Health program at George Washington University, Washington, D.C. Ms. Barlet fulfilled her MPH practicum requirements at Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society as a State Policy Intern. Prior to joining the VFW, she completed the 2019 VFW-SVA Legislative Fellowship program. Her proposal revolved around oral health as preventative care for the veteran population. The National Legislative Service staff used her research as a part of the VFW’s written testimony for the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health legislative hearing on September 11th, 2019. Tammy is a life member of VFW Post 216 in Hamburg, Pa.

Maureen Elias is a native of Puyallup, Washington, and served in the United States Army from 2001-2006 as a counterintelligence agent. After leaving the service, she spent 12 years raising three children and supporting her active duty Army husband, Dustin Elias. She graduated from Bowie State University with a masters in mental health counseling in 2017 and began working as Assistant Director of The Veterans Health Council of Vietnam Veterans of America. In December of 2019, she started serving as an Associate Legislative Director at Paralyzed Veterans of America where her portfolio includes veteran benefits, women veterans, and mental health. She also serves as a Director of the High Ground Veteran Advocacy Fellowship. Maureen enjoys spending time mentoring veterans on personal statements and interview skills, geocaching, and going on adventures with her family and friends.

Joy J. Ilem, a service-connected disabled veteran of the U.S. Army, was appointed national legislative director for the more than 1 million-member DAV in August 2015. She directs the advancement of DAV’s public policy objectives to promote and defend reasonable and responsible legislation to assist disabled veterans and their families nationwide, while guarding current veteran's benefits and services from legislative erosion. A native of Shakopee, Minnesota, Ilem was raised in the greater Minneapolis area, and is a 1977 graduate of Totino Grace High School in Fridley, Minnesota. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona at Tucson in 1994. Ilem enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1982. Following basic training at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, and advanced medical training at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas, she was assigned as a medic to the 67th Evacuation Hospital in Wurzburg, Germany, where she underwent additional certification as an emergency medical technician (EMT). Ilem’s military duties included emergency room assignments and non-commissioned officer in charge of recovery room operations. She was honorably discharged from the Army in 1985.

Kayla Williams is Director of the Military, Veterans, and Society Program at Center for a New American Security. She previously served as Director of the Center for Women Veterans at VA, where she focused on policies, programs, and legislation affecting women veterans. Kayla spent eight years at RAND researching servicemember and veteran health needs and benefits, international security, and intelligence policy. Ms. Williams was enlisted for five years and authored the memoirs Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the U.S. Army and Plenty of Time When We Get Home: Love and Recovery in the Aftermath of War. Kayla has a BA from Bowling Green State University and an MA from American University. She is a member of the Department of Labor Advisory Committee on Veterans’ Employment, Training, and Employer Outreach; a former member of the Army Education Advisory Committee and VA Advisory Committee on Women Veterans; a 2013 White House Woman Veteran Champion of Change; and a 2015 Lincoln Award recipient. Women veterans and women in general face healthcare obstacles in public and private systems that, generally, cater to men. Often, corporate healthcare providers will chase profits over addressing patient needs. But at the VA, at least, the more women that utilize the system, the more it will respond to our unique needs as women. We must keep showing up and demanding the care we deserve and need after serving our country.



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