Survey: Women struggle to be seen as ‘real’ veterans (Military Times)
Women already facing discrimination issues in the ranks confront similar challenges being accepted as “real veterans” in their post-military life, according to a new study released by officials at The Mission Continues on Monday. The survey of women fellows in the group in April found that about two-thirds did not feel “respected and valued as veterans,” because of a lack of respect of their service or assumptions they must be spouses instead of former service members. That feeling in turn hurt their sense of identity and ability to connect with others. Paired with a shortage of female-specific services at the Department of Veterans Affairs and other military outreach efforts, the struggles left 70 percent of the women surveyed with significant difficulties forming strong relationships after their military lives ended. “There are limited structured opportunities for women veterans to connect with others who can relate to their experiences and support them during their reintegration,” the report states. “The relatively small number of women veterans can make it even more difficult for them to connect with each other. This can have a negative impact on women veterans’ mental health and their successful reintegration into to civilian life.” The 71-person survey does not carry any scientific or statistical weight for the veteran population as a whole, but does offer a snapshot of some of the specific challenges subgroups of veterans face transitioning back into a civilian society that often has only a partial understanding of overall military culture and lifestyle. Female veterans make up about 16 percent of the country’s veterans population, the highest rate in U.S. history. But advocates have long complained that too many veterans services and resources are still geared toward men only, without enough flexibility or knowledge to fully assist those millions of female veterans.
Veterans on campaign to help women (Chicago Tribune)
Former Army Pvt. First Class Jessica Lynch, the first successfully rescued POW since World War II, entered the sun-filled Veterans Resource Center in Gary wearing a friendly smile and olive green sweat pants that reveal the brace she wears on her lower leg. As special guest for the “Celebration of Life” dinner and program to honor area veterans Monday night at the Center for Visual and Performing Arts in Munster, Lynch, along with the keynote speaker Dr. Irene Trowell-Harris, hope to bring more attention to the plight of female veterans. Trowell-Harris, a retired major general with 38 years in the U.S. Air Force, was the first African-American woman to be promoted to general in the National Guard. She is also the former director of the Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Women Veterans. On hand at the Resource Center to greet the women was Robert Farmer, executive director of The Webb House, a Gary-based non-profit organization that supports the Resource Center and provides housing and other assistance to area veterans. Female veterans make up just about 2 million of the 22 million veteran population. There are 35,569 female veterans in Indiana and 54,707 in Illinois, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. “One of the biggest problems with female veterans is that they do not self-identify as veterans. They do not speak up about their military service, ” Trowell-Harris said. As a result, they often are not referred for veteran’s healthcare, employment and loan services, she said. “I knew nothing and I was told nothing,” said Lynch. “The only reason I knew anything (about services available to me) was because of my status (as a speaker). I used to do events and that’s how I would learn about things.” She said she never knew she could get her travel expenses paid for visits Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., from her home eight hours away in in West Virginia. Gulf War Veteran Shandelon Guy, who served as a specialist in Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield, said she suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome and military sexual trauma. She visits the Veterans Resource Center in Gary almost daily to read books and learn about her benefits and pointed to the bulletin boards showcasing healthcare information.
Coalition to Senate: Increase troop pay and benefits (Military Times)
Military advocates are pleading with Senate lawmakers to undo planned pay and benefits cuts for troops next year, calling the moves “harmful” and “troubling.” In a letter to Senators on Friday, 27 members of the Military Coalition pushed for the lawmakers to dump provisions in their annual budget drafts that would set the annual pay raise below civilian sector wage growth, trim housing allowance rates, raise pharmacy fees and cut the military commissary subsidy. “We understand budgets are tight, but by striking these provisions you will send a very strong message of support to the men and women who wear the uniform and their families,” the letter states. Coalition officials estimate that those planned benefits trims and similar proposals enacted over the last two years will cost a married midcareer enlisted service member with two dependents about $5,100 in purchasing power annually. For a midcareer officer, the lost benefits total more than $6,400. But Pentagon planners have argued the reduced pay raises and benefit adjustments are needed to keep military personnel costs from overwhelming other accounts, especially as lawmakers rein in military spending following years of aggressive growth during wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For example, putting the 2016 pay raise at 1.3 percent — a full point below the anticipated private sector wage growth for next year — would save the Defense Department about $4 billion over the next five years, money that could be redirected into training and modernization accounts. So far, House lawmakers have rejected the Pentagon’s planned personnel trims for fiscal 2016 in their defense authorization and appropriations legislation. The Senate Armed Services Committee has supported the lower pay raise and some of the other benefits changes. The Senate Appropriations Committee will unveil its defense budget plans Tuesday.
Montana veterans cemetery no longer allows graveside services (The Missoulian)
The Montana State Veterans Cemetery no longer allows most graveside services because of safety and liability concerns, although exceptions are made, an official said. Joe Foster, administrator for Montana Veterans Affairs Division, said that the cemetery’s new committal shelter is being used for most services. Since the committal shelter and columbarium were built and available for use about a year ago, they have replaced graveside services, Foster said. Use of the committal shelter complies with national policy by the National Cemetery Administration, he said. Spiritual or exceptional circumstances, he explained, allow for graveside services. “If that’s the case, we’ll do it. We will accommodate that,” Foster said. Foster said he has heard concerns from some families that don’t support the new policy and he plans to meet again with that group later this month to further discuss the policy and reasons for it. The policy now is that services are held in the committal shelter and then the casket or urn is taken to where a grave has been opened awaiting the remains. Families are not allowed access to the grave for 30 minutes after the ceremony for the internment of cremated remains and one hour if a casket is used for a burial. The 30-minute delay allows time for cemetery staff to complete the burial and make the grave presentable while the hour is needed for the same process for a casket and to allow time for removal of equipment used in that process, Foster said.
DOE backstops effort to transition veterans into utility industry (North American Windpower)
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is backstopping an effort to bring in veterans to the utility power industry. Working together with the Departments of Labor, Defense and Veterans Affairs, as well as five utility trade associations, the DOE will recruit and train service members, veterans and military spouses to qualify for utility industry jobs. Dubbed the Utility Industry Workforce Initiative, the effort aims to capitalize on the skills sets veterans already possess and apply them to critical gaps in the nation’s energy infrastructure. With more than 200,000 veterans leaving the military annually and projections indicating 1.5 million additional energy jobs by 2030, the timing seems to align. Many companies in the wind industry, such as Siemens, already have recruitment programs tailored to veterans. Founding private-sector members of the initiative include the Edison Electric Institute, the Center for Energy Workforce Development, the Nuclear Energy Institute, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and the American Gas Association. To read the fact sheet, click here.
Los Angeles VA unveils housing for 65 homeless veterans (The Los Angeles Times)
The smile never left Keith Hudson’s face, even when he spoke of his divorce and his descent into alcoholism and homelessness. In his blue dress shirt, tie and slacks, he could have passed for the paralegal that he once was and hopes to be again. Hudson, 52, now has a home, a job and a future — all because of an effort launched more than a decade ago to convert an underused building on the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs campus into residences for chronically homeless veterans in need of medical or mental health treatment. “When I walked into this building,” the Army veteran said, “it was like one of those movies when you walk through a cloud and you’re like: ‘Whoa! Wow!’ Everything was state of the art, brand new. It’s like an apartment complex and a five-star hotel combined into one, with all the amenities.” After years of debate, inaction, funding delays and a high-profile lawsuit filed on behalf of veterans, Building 209 — the newest housing for veterans on the campus — finally had its unveiling last week. It features a soaring atrium entrance, a fitness room, a large kitchen where vets can learn culinary skills, communal sitting areas, Wi-Fi and 55 single- and double-occupancy units that will house a total of 65 veterans. A few units on the upper floor have ocean views. Twenty women will live in a secure wing with an exit to a “serenity garden.” Leo A. Daly, a noted architectural firm, designed the $20-million renovation and seismic upgrade of the 51,000-square-foot building, one of many on the campus that the federal government has deemed historic. The work took about two years. Outside, stairways and ramps lead through a nascent garden to the entrance. The three-story building, which had long sat nearly empty, stands in stark contrast to much of the rest of the largely neglected campus. Hudson’s furnished one-bedroom apartment comes with a TV, a living room and a kitchen, where the amateur chef intends to spend much of his time perfecting recipes taught him by his Chinese, Cherokee and African American relatives. Los Angeles County has long had the largest concentration of homeless veterans in the country — more than 4,300 in the latest count. Two-thirds of them live in the city.
No timeline for fixing water issues at Wilmington VA clinic (WECT-Wilmington)
Nearly three months after the authorities issued a do not consume notice for the water at the Wilmington VA Clinic, the Veterans’ Affairs Administration still has no timeline on when the water problems will be fixed so the order can be lifted. Until the water is usable, patients in the GI, Urology and Dental departments are still having their appointments canceled. In some cases, veterans are being referred to the VA clinic in Fayetteville as an alternative. The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority ordered the clinic to stop consuming the water on March 23. This came after workers at the facility reported that the water had a bluish tint, and it tested positive for heavy metal contamination. The CFPUA quickly identified the source of contamination as an internal issue, not a problem with the water supply. In the months that have passed since, the building owner, Summit Smith HealthCare Services has examined water heaters, electrical concerns and replaced sections of copper pipe in an effort to pinpoint the problem. The water problems persist. Most recently, Summit Smith has identified an incompatibility between the galvanized plumbing connectors and copper pipe. According to a press release from the VA, this “is believed to have produced a chemical reaction which is now thought to be the source of the water contamination.” Still, a VA spokesman said they “don’t have a timeline” on when the water issues will be fixed. Once they’re resolved, the VA will have to submit water test results for three consecutive weeks that show metal contaminants are below action levels before the do not consume notice will be lifted.