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Support For Women Veterans


Al Kovach, Jr., National President of PVA
Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News August 2016

We need to better understand all of women veterans' concerns so we can be more effective advocates for them.

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You can’t rely on the government to fix everything. Depending on your political leanings, you either find this an obvious statement or a cynical one. As the president of a nonprofit, I find it an opportunistic one.

An emerging philosophical business model called “the Fourth Sector” exemplifies how government entities and private business organizations are partnering with nonprofits to reach important objectives. When you combine the resources of all three and align their priorities, you get the unity of the Fourth Sector. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Center for Women Veterans is using a Fourth Sector approach to increase support of women veterans.

The VA has a partnership with a nonprofit organization called leanin.org. The “LeanIn Circles” offer messaging, networking and support opportunities established through online hubs. The VA hopes the Women Veterans Chapter will engage women veterans and open avenues of learning and leadership for them.

During May’s Paralyzed Veterans of America’s (PVA) 70th Annual Convention in Jacksonville, Fla., I shared the findings of a PVA women veterans’ study we piloted earlier this year. With 112 respondents, the study was a small summary of PVA’s women members, but it revealed common denominators the leanin.org model will tap.  

Our study focused on the health care needs of women who served in the military and have paralysis. It found 62% of respondents seek some form of their health care outside of the VA.  


Proud female soldier. Istock Photo by Daniel Bendjy

Interestingly, the reasons for this were less about distance and quality of care as they were about a lack of trust, privacy and comfort. The leanin.org circles may be a way of broadening this conversation and raising awareness within the VA about women veterans’ concerns.

The leanin.org Women Veterans Chapter comprises two distinct pilot programs: the veteran-to-veteran program, a virtual program, and a face-to-face pilot circle created in partnership with an existing leanin.org circle in Seattle. The virtual circle interests me the most because it allows any woman veteran to participate, no matter where she’s located. Meetings are moderated by women veterans across the country.

PVA represents a niche corps of veterans; those with spinal-cord injury (SCI) or disease, as well as veterans with multiple sclerosis (MS) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Though there are 1.8 million living women veterans, they’re still a niche within the larger veteran population.

Representing a niche population is what PVA does best, and I want to encourage our women veterans to get involved with the leanin.org virtual chapter. I also encourage all veterans to reach out to women veterans they know and tell them about this program.

We need to better understand all of women veterans’ concerns so we can be more effective advocates for them. It’s one of the goals for my third term as PVA national president, that we are actively engaging and seeking counsel from our PVA women veteran members.

We’ll seek to identify gaps in the VA’s women veterans agenda and recommend actions to fill those gaps. We’ll deploy our Field Advisory Committee to work with PVA Medical Services and Veterans Benefits departments to analyze information gathered during site visits at all VA SCI Centers.

These visits offer opportunities for PVA staff to interact directly with patients and VA clinicians when assessing the quality of care our members are receiving. This interaction enables us to make informed recommendations for outreach awareness efforts.

Maybe we’ll find that a peer-matching program specifically for women veterans is something that will alleviate the isolation of VA in-hospital female patients that I’ve personally witnessed and been distressed over.

PVA’s founding keystone of holistic rehabilitation is peer-to-peer counseling. Yet when women veterans are admitted, they’re often placed in rooms away from other SCI patients with the intention of providing comfort and privacy from co-ed care.

This doesn’t allow them to immerse themselves in the progress and triumphs of other SCI patients who are further along in their recoveries, and thereby isolates them from the hope that immersion provides.

I’m not saying I have all the answers to how we better support women veterans. But you can’t address a problem until you fully understand it.

I think the PVA study is a first step toward understanding what women veterans with SCI, MS and ALS need, and I aim to end my presidency with a clearly defined argument on women veterans’ outreach to present to the VA.  

PVA members, if you’re a woman veteran and would like to submit a story, concern or question, please email members@pva.org.   

 

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