Indiana lawmakers recently established a new position to address concerns specifically facing the state’s 35,000 female veterans.
Laura McKee assumed her role as Women Veterans Coordinator at the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs about a month ago.
Indiana Public Broadcasting’s Gretchen Frazee sat down with her to discuss what barriers are keeping women vets from getting the help they need:
Frazee: What particular issues do women veterans face that male veterans don't?
McKee: Men do have sexual trauma, however it is more likely that a woman would. There are programs where those [incidents of sexual trauma] are much more out in the open as far as finding them, but not necessarily in providing support for that, so you've had that breakdown in trust. Also, with health concerns, there are many gender health concerns that a man wouldn't face, such as certain reproductive health issues with ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, vaginal cancers, so we want to make sure women veterans know that these services, such as cancer screening, are available.
Frazee: A U.S. Department of Labor report showed that in 2000 there were 150 homeless female veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In 2011, there were 1,700. Why do you think that is?
McKee: One of the big problems we have is women veterans with dependents. There's not really something that establishes and differentiates between those as far as shelters. Women also often stay in the shadows, so it is harder to find them and help them find benefits.
Frazee: Are women veterans less likely to take advantage of the benefits they have than their male counterparts?
McKee: I think there is a tendency for women who are veterans to not really recognize themselves as veterans. Bringing that out with them create an atmosphere to where yes you are a veteran and we're here to help you and I think the numbers reflect that.
Frazee: Could separating women out [by reaching out to them separately from men] have a downside instead of putting them in the general population?
McKee: The VA, on the federal level, has put surveys out there and done studies that show women want that specific help. They want to be treated like a woman. They want to have trust in their [health] providers that they are competent enough to take that separation and detail them for their unique needs.
Frazee: You are in the Air Force reserve and you've been deployed to help with the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. How does your personal experience inform your role as the Women Veterans Coordinator?
McKee: I've experienced some of those things, not necessarily sexual trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder, but I know the environment they were in possibly. It's not necessarily Disneyland over there, and being able to experience that environment, I do think that will be helpful.
Frazee: You've been on the job a couple weeks now, what have you done so far?
McKee: What we're wanting to do is help all veterans first of all and getting an awareness of yes, we are here. There was no women veterans leader full time. I am here to advocate for them and to let them know that there are resources out there for their gender concerns, reintegration back into the civilian life, for post-traumatic stress disorder, military sexual trauma, employment, homelessness, all of that. I'm not sure there is one specific event that outweighs another. Right now, we are just bringing it all together and saying we are here to help.