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Fighting for Women Veterans in 2020

AMVET Sandra Durbin during AMVETS 74th Annual National Convention in Orlando, Florida.

As our nation’s most inclusive Congressionally-chartered Veteran Service Organization, AMVETS relentlessly supports legislation, programs, and services that help veterans of all genders, races, and generations. It’s no secret that often times the concerns of women in our military and after their service go unheard and neglected. While the veteran community and our government are improving on this daily, we have a ways to go to providing all veterans the benefits they’ve earned.

AMVETS made great leaps this year in seeing that those benefits and services are implemented in the near future.

AMVETS Elects First Woman As National Leader in Organization’s History

AMVETS National Commander Jan Brown elected during AMVETS’ 75th Annual National Convention in Louisville, Kentucky.

AMVETS elected Jan Brown to serve as the organization’s 2019 – 2020 National Commander during AMVETS’ 75th Annual National Convention in Louisville, KY, August 24. The election signifies a milestone in AMVETS’ history, as Commander Brown will be the first female Commander for the organization.

“I thank my AMVETS family for putting their confidence in me to lead this organization,” said Brown. “I promise that I will always represent AMVETS in the very best light.”

Commander Brown served 27 years in the U.S. Air Force, retiring as a Senior Master Sergeant. Her service included missions in Guam, Germany, Turkey, and The Philippines.

Every year AMVETS Commanders take on a veteran-related project in an effort to bring awareness to certain issues and serve veterans across the nation. This year, Commander Brown’s focus is Save a Warrior, an organization located in Newark, Ohio, that provides counseling services in the fields of mental health and wellness, suicide prevention and post-traumatic stress to veterans, military personnel, police, firefighters and other first responders.

“There are parts of ourselves that the traditional medical model is not equipped to heal or nourish, adding to our suffering, said Brown. “AMVETS works relentlessly to heal American veterans, and I believe through this project, we will continue working to see that veterans are living well, not just ‘un-sick,’ and we’ll begin to curb the national veteran suicide crisis.”

The Women Veterans Journey Map

AMVETS’ Women Veterans Journey Map delivers understanding of the unique challenges associated with the women veteran experience, from induction to end of life.

Just over a year ago AMVETS released an online tool developed to illustrate the experiences women service members face while in uniform and once separated from the military. The journey map is designed to help users better understand the unique challenges associated with the women veteran experience, from induction to end of life.

“Women who serve are statistically more likely to face a range of issues from sexual trauma to homelessness to domestic violence, among other well documented concerns,” said Cherissa Jackson, Chief Medical Executive for AMVETS and retired U.S. Air Force combat nurse who served during Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. “However, the importance of protective factors like a strong support network, career coaching, and financial literacy early in their careers are variables that get overlooked yet contribute to how successfully a woman in uniform is able to deal with issues she later faces. Our journey map takes a phase-by-phase approach in the experience continuum to account for the obvious as well as the hidden factors that impact wellness.”

AMVETS HEAL Team, the journey map’s creators, hope to equip advocates and program administrators with a better understanding of how cumulative hardships that women veterans face might explain the rise in suicide among them. Last year, the Department of Veterans Affairs reported that women veterans were nearly twice as likely to take their own lives when compared with non-veteran women of the same age. The Women Veteran Journey Map was conceptualized around input from roundtable discussions, meetings with legislators, and one-on-one engagements with women veterans in need of critical assistance through the organization’s HEAL Program.

“Many programs for women veterans approach issues such as homelessness and post traumatic stress as standalone problems. But these problems don’t originate or linger in a vacuum,” said Jackson. “Without solutions that begin with a contextual understanding of how many of these issues interrelate to or were caused by less-obvious concerns, perhaps years earlier, it’s difficult to achieve sustainable outcomes that actually heal wounds, not simply cover them with bandaids.”

The Women Veterans Journey Map can be found here.

AMVETS Takes Stand Against Sexual Assault

Commander Jan Brown during AMVETS’ 75th Annual National Convention in Louisville, Kentucky.

Over the last few months, AMVETS has been tracking a sexual assault case that took place at the DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center in 2019. Over this time period, AMVETS has continually called for further investigation into VA senior leadership’s handling of the case, with Commander brown going so far as to calling it a “victim-blaming fiasco” during her testimony in February.

“Imagine instead of it being Ms. Goldstein, it’s your mother, sister, or daughter who made these claims. Would you tolerate for even a moment her character being questioned? These women who are brave enough to come forward deserve the same consideration.”

– Jan Brown, National Commander, AMVETS to the Veterans Affairs Committee February 26, 2020.

The Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General recently released a full report on VA senior leadership’s involvement in the case, where troubling and unethical findings were uncovered. The results of the report left AMVETS no choice but to call for VA Secretary Robert Wilkie’s resignation.

Furthermore, AMVETS sent a request to House Oversight Committee leadership, calling for a hearing to summon Secretary Wilkie and senior VA leaders. AMVETS believes that the public needs to be made aware of the Secretary’s reasoning behind decisions and actions stated in the report due to lack of full cooperation from him and leadership during this investigation.

Amid Nationwide Unemployment Spike, AMVETS Partners with Military Hire

Military Hire and AMVETS announce a partnership of their organizations in multiple efforts to support veteran transitions to civilian life.  The first major initiative between the organizations is a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program intended to train female veterans in the area of cybersecurity, a major focus of Military Hire and its recent partnership with CompTIA.

As part of this agreement, Military Hire will provide awareness to promote the mission and message of AMVETS while connecting AMVETS to its job placement candidate and recruiter pools.  In turn, AMVETS will provide job counseling and placement services as needed to Military Hire candidates choosing those services from the Military Hire site.

“Offering STEM opportunities to Women Veterans provides hope and inspiration to the brave women who have sacrificed and served our country courageously.  They deserve every opportunity that will catapult their careers and help secure their futures”, says Cherissa Jackson, retired Air Force nurse and Chief Medical Executive of AMVETS and creator of the Women Veteran’s STEM Pilot.

The AMVETS Women Veterans’ STEM Pilot Project is open to women veterans and will launch shortly.  Military Hire and its partner CompTIA are offering discounted pricing for cybersecurity training as a part of the program. 

“The STEM program fits three major focus areas of Military Hire – female veterans,  cybersecurity training and job placement,” said Military Hire COO Robert Riegle.  “As a veteran, I understand the value of AMVETS and the full breadth of services they offer veterans.  Military Hire’s mission is around the veteran’s full life transition from military service to commercial life so this partnership was a fit and a true honor for us to engage.”

As part of the agreement, AMVETS job placement and counseling  experts will be accessible to veterans on Military Hire to aid veterans in job search skills and placement assistance.  AMVETS also provides expertise in healthcare issues affecting veterans. AMVETS’ award winning HEAL Program, managed by Cherissa Jackson, will help Veterans with healthcare, evaluation, advocacy and legislative concerns.  This holistic approach ensures that all the needs of the Veteran are assessed and all resources are available.

AMVETS Takes Part In Groundbreaking Women Veteran Center

Veterans and officials break ground on a transitional home for female veterans in Merrillville on Monday, December 7, 2020. (Kyle Telechan / Post-Tribune)

KAREN CAFFARINI, POST-TRIBUNE – [A] group of veterans joined others in Merrillville to break ground on a housing project for an often forgotten segment of the military — female veterans.

Jan Brown, the first female national commander for Amvets, agreed that the project, which also includes a job training center, is sorely needed.

“This type of housing is so hard to come by, not only because of the smaller number of women veterans but because of the attachments they come with, their children. I applaud you 100 percent,” she told Robert Farmer, the executive director of Webb House center for homeless veterans in Gary, which is building the 6,100-square-foot facility.

The full story can be read here.

AMVETS and TruGenomix Partner to Tackle Rise in Women Veteran Suicides

AMVETS Chief Medical Executive Cherissa Jackson hosts women veterans meeting.

AMVETS (American Veterans) and TruGenomix, a veteran-owned precision behavioral health company is the first company to offer a clinical decision support tool to help identify those living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in military veterans and first responders, have announced a strategic partnership that will focus specifically on female veterans. Women, as well as other minority groups, have been largely underrepresented in leading studies.

“We hope that by providing women veterans with the opportunity to understand how their genes were affected by trauma exposure, it will create treatment protocols that are more precise and individualized to the needs of these women,” said Cherissa Jackson, AMVETS Chief Medical Executive.

Research suggests that individuals with PTSD are at an increased risk for suicide and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) found that women veterans were twice as likely to take their own lives compared to their non-Veteran counterparts. Prevalence rates for PTSD in women have been found to be over twice that of men; however, these studies have been unable to control for reporting and utilization bias.

“By using an objective, genomic-based assay for PTSD we can remove the biases and begin to understand true sex differences. Only then can we begin to tailor therapies to the underlying biologic changes,” said Dr. Anne Naclerio, Chief Medical Officer for TruGenomix.

On Capitol Hill

AMVETS National Commander Jan Brown and AMVETS member storm Capitol Hill March, 2020.

The following is derived from Commander Brown’s testimony before the Veterans Affairs Committee delivered February 26, 2020:

Addressing mental health issues that are specific to women is a top priority for AMVETS. The rate at which women choose to end their own lives is 180 percent higher than members of the same gender who never served. Male veterans, meanwhile, are 140 percent more likely to commit suicide than their peers who have only known civilian life.

Let AMVETS be clear. There are many improvements to be made at V.A. to make women veterans feel welcomed and safe. This is a top-down effort, and at no time should we be questioning victims about their experiences at the V.A. AMVETS is appalled to learn of continued lapses at V.A. with regards to its policies in handling such incidents. Adequate, timely, and practical training needs to be provided to all employees with regards to creating safe environments for all veterans. And when claims of harassment are made, there should be clear guidelines that are followed in those incidents for attending to those victims. V.A. personnel and V.A. leadership should be held accountable for those policies. Blaming victims or insinuating character issues would be unacceptable if it were your mother, sister, or daughter; thus, it is equally unacceptable when they are someone else’s loved one.

AMVETS is supportive of the Servicemembers and Veterans Empowerment and Support Act of 2019, introduced in the House as H.R. 1092 and in the Senate as S. 374. This legislation expands health care and benefits from the V.A. for military sexual trauma. Section 101 of this legislation adds technological abuse as an assault that the V.A. is required to provide counseling and appropriate care for. Technological abuse may include unwanted, repeated phone calls, text messages, or social media posts.

Upon passage of this bill, if a veteran claims that a covered mental health condition was caused by military sexual trauma during active service and the opinion of a mental health professional is consistent with that claim, the V.A. will accept this claim as sufficient proof of service-connection even if there is no official record of such incurrence in the service.

H.R. 1092 and S. 374 will allow members of the reserve components of the Armed Forces, including members of the National Guard, to be able to access all V.A. health care facilities to receive counseling and treatment relating to military sexual trauma and not just Vet Centers.

There are specific sections of S. 785 John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2019 that address mental health disparities specific to women veterans. We support language that will require an assessment of the capacity of peer specialists of the V.A. who are women. This assessment will be required on the geographical distribution of peer specialists of the V.A. who are women, the geographical distribution of women veterans, the number and proportion of women peer specialists who specialize in peer counseling on mental health or suicide prevention, and the number and proportion of women peer specialists who specialize in peer counseling on nonmental health-related matters. Based on this assessment, the V.A. will then submit a plan to hire additional qualified peer specialists who are women. AMVETS has also endorsed H.R. 4281 Access to Contraception Expansion for Veterans Act and H.R. 5045 Veteran Employment and Child Care Access Act of 2019. This legislation allows Women Veterans to have autonomy and feel empowered to decide what’s best for them. With the benefits of contraception beyond the pregnancy, Women Veterans should have peace of mind knowing the lack of contraception won’t be an added
stressor.

AMVETS supports H.R. 4281, which gives women veterans the option to receive a 12- month supply of oral contraceptive pills at the V.A. Providing women service members with more than the current 6-month standard supply allows them to have greater control over how their bodies regulate. This may further maximize performance while on deployment or in circumstances where women’s health services are not readily available during unexpectedly prolonged assignments.

AMVETS also urges the passage of H.R. 5045, which requires the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to provide childcare assistance to a veteran who is receiving training or vocational rehabilitation on a full-time basis. The VA currently provides a wide gamut of supportive services for veterans undergoing vocational rehabilitation, such as training costs, tuition and fees, books, supplies, equipment, tutoring, and special services. A lack of childcare options has been a long-standing barrier for too many veterans who would otherwise benefit from this additional support to fully participate in vocational rehabilitation.

Commander Brown’s full testimony can be watched here and read here.

AMVETS will continue to be a driving force for women veterans in 2021. Continue to check our Facebook and Twitter for the latest and give to our programs and efforts as we work toward the betterment of all veterans.

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