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Redefining the Landscape

At IAVA we are always looking to bring attention to veterans — both their #VetsRising stories of inspiration and the challenges our armed service members face as they return home. Whether on the Hill or on the nightly news we are outspoken on the issues that matter. So when one of the presidential candidates speaks about veterans or high ranking senators meet to discuss the issues that affect us, team IAVA looks to direct the national conversation and bring it back to the individuals who are most affected.

But behind the scenes, amid all of this, are members of our small team who work diligently day in and day out with little fanfare. Over the past few weeks one of our staff has emerged from her “behind the scenes” role to take center stage in discussions about women vets and mental health care. Her face may already be familiar to you.

For the past month IAVA Research Director Dr. Jackie Maffucci has been featured in ads running literally everywhere for Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, premiering tonight. The “interview” with Daily Show alum and veterans advocate Sam Bee was filmed in IAVA offices in New York last December. We are thrilled that Ms. Bee is devoting her first episode to the often overlooked, and at times comic, issue of women vets trying to obtain care at the VA.

On a more serious note, Jackie’s Op-Ed in last week’s Variety highlights IAVA’s research into this same issue:

To this day, as a nation, we don’t see women as combat veterans. We only see GI Joe. And yet, the military is at its most diverse point, with women as the fastest growing population both in service and in the veteran community. They comprise nearly 20 percent of new recruits, 15 percent of the 1.4 million active duty force, and 18 percent of the 850,000 reserve component. In 2003, they represented six percent of the veteran population; today, they represent 10 percent. So what about GI Jane? Why do we still refuse to see her, to support her and acknowledge the sacrifices that she’s made for this country?

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Last week Jackie switched gears to talk about mental health and suicide prevention at the Department of Veterans Affairs Suicide prevention conference in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 2. Speaking alongside her was Susan Selke, the mother of Clay Hunt and fearless advocate for suicide prevention. Jackie shared key recommendations for improving mental health care and access at the VA, along with her personal motivation for doing her work each day:

For the last seven years give or take, my focus has been on military and veteran issues with an emphasis on health. The job can get really hard, and at times, heartbreaking. But in all the hard work and heartbreak, I recognize that it shouldn’t be this hard to affect change for better. This is why I keep coming back.

The ability to share stories of those who survived, who found hope, got care and are thriving now is critical to reach those who are suffering now. There have been campaigns, but never a collective one. I’ve been there and heard the stories of veterans who survived. I’ve had friends tell me how the VA saved their lives. Our members have told us the impact their family and friends have had in empowering them to get help. Those are the stories we need to tell. In this spirit, we must coordinate our messaging efforts into one simple and powerful awareness campaign to address help seeking, share resources and most importantly, provide hope.

In the weeks and months ahead, as veterans inevitably continue to be talked about, at IAVA we will continue to make this dialogue as substantial as possible. We will also talk about the issues that aren’t getting much air time — like threats to the Post-9/11 GI Bill; traumatic brain injury; burn pits; and yes, women vets.

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