Jessica Wilkes will be joining 20 other IAVA stormers in Washington, DC for IAVA’s senior leadership development program, Storm the Hill, March 2-6, 2020.
Branch: U.S. Air Force
Military Occupation: Combat Videographer
Tell us a little about you outside of the military:
Since leaving the military, I have found both my calling and a place where I fit. In 2015, I was given the opportunity at the College of Charleston to establish their Veteran & Military Student Services office. In 2018, I became the Program Director and I have the privilege of working with veterans transitioning from the military into college.
Why are you Storming the Hill with IAVA?
I am Storming the Hill with IAVA to ensure the next generation of female combat veterans have access to the same services and programs as male combat veterans to get help. I have felt invisible and forgotten as a female combat veteran with PTSD and the services I have located over the years, are marketed only to male veterans. Now that women are filling combat roles, our numbers are growing and will continue to in the coming years. I want the military and VA to be proactive in creating programs and services that include combat veterans that are women and not just targeted at men.
How did your military experience shape you to be the person you are today?
My military experience taught me what it truly meant to sacrifice and what it means to be part of something bigger than myself. Through my service I discovered that I am strong and capable and what it means to lead and protect others. When I left the military, my desire to serve continued, and it led me to where I am today. I’m still looking after my “troops” everyday by supporting them their transition from the military.
Which one of IAVA’s Big 6 do you believe is the most pressing? Why?
I believe that Combating Suicide among Troops and Veterans is the most pressing Big 6. I’ve lost many friends to suicide over the years and each time, I’ve blamed myself for not seeing the signs or reaching out sooner. They have made immeasurable sacrifices at the expense of both their physical and mental health to keep our country safe. They deserve to get their life back and it starts with treating their invisible wounds. It’s our job as a country to look after them and provide them with the best support, mental health care and treatment options available.
Which one of IAVA’s Big 6 do you have the strongest personal connection to? Why?
I feel a close personal connection to the Big 6 “Recognizing and improving services for women veterans.” However, I feel the strongest personal connection to Combating Suicide Among Troops and Veterans due to the nature of my job. Last year I lost one of my student veterans, a 23-year-old Marine Corp veteran and no one knew he was depressed or sad.
Since then, I have kept my office door open and spent a great deal of time speaking with student veterans struggling with depression and PTSD and encouraging them to visit the VA for help. I’ve even taken students over to the VA on occasion. Between transitioning from the military and battling post-traumatic stress disorder many are on the verge of giving up. I’m grateful that I’m able to do something to help but my biggest fear is what will happen if I’m not in the office one day when they need someone. I’m only one person.