On Monday, I had the pleasure and privilege of attending Service Women’s Action Network’s Annual Summit in Washington, D.C. This year, the focus was on mental health and wellness. The summit brought together academics, members and staff from veteran service organizations (VSO), active duty service members, and women veterans from across the United States. Topics ranged from homelessness, to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) care, to overcoming the stigma associated with mental health injuries. It was an inspiring feeling to be surrounded by strong, powerful women who wanted to make an impact and improve access to care for all women veterans.
SWAN’s Summit featured women veteran leaders in the VA, within the VSO community, and even a woman veteran comedian (she was hilarious!). All of SWAN’s Summit speakers had these themes in common: elevating women veterans and service members, sharing their stories, and redefining how America sees its veterans.
IAVA has long been leading the charge in these areas, most recently through our #SheWhoBorneTheBattle campaign. We have been sharing the stories of our women veteran leaders and showing America that veterans are not a monolithic group. We have been educating the American public about service and sacrifice, in all its forms, and advocating for a shifted narrative.
As part of this campaign, IAVA is championing the Deborah Sampson Act in Congress, which will increase access and eliminate barriers to care for women veterans in the VA. Among other things, the Deborah Sampson Act will require VA to collect gender-specific data on veterans as they access care at the VA, which will help support and care for our women veterans in the most effective and efficient ways moving forward.
Speaking of data….
The Summit was the launch event for SWAN’s survey, which asked women veterans and service members about their mental wellness habits and experiences. SWAN found that mental well-being was a concern for most of its respondents. Mental health and finding community were among the top issues respondents reported facing.
Much of this falls into line with what IAVA’s latest Member Survey found (check it out here). IAVA members reported that the top issue impacting post-9/11 veterans is mental health and suicide prevention, followed by VA reform. In addition, of IAVA’s women veteran members, only 27 percent felt that the general public treat women veterans with respect.
Both surveys speak to the need to address the issues facing women veterans. Access to care, educating the public about women veterans, and creating a culture that is respectful and thankful to all of our service members and veterans is key. IAVA’s #SheWhoBorneTheBattle campaign is addressing these issues everyday.
Get involved in our #SheWhoBorneTheBattle campaign here or ask your Members of Congress to cosponsor the Deborah Sampson Act, addressing access to care for women veterans, here. And, find the full 2017 Member Survey here.