Understanding and caring for women veterans

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U.S. Air Force photo/Megan Crusher

The 163rd Reconnaissance Wing hosted the Caring for Women Veterans event, presented by the Inland Empire Veterans Mental Health Collaborative and held at the regional training site at March Air Reserve Base, Mar. 12.

The program takes place quarterly at different locations throughout the community with a different topic pertaining to veterans at each event. This quarter’s subject was Understanding and Caring for Women Veterans and was open to anyone in the community who provides service to veterans.

Retired Navy Captain, Lisa Roybal, is the women veterans’ program coordinator for Loma Linda Health Care System. She has dedicated 25 years to women’s health care and represented the Veterans Administration and women veterans during the three-hour event.

Her main goal was to educate local organizations who are taking care of women so they better understand the unique needs of women veterans, she said.

Discussing the increasing number of women veterans using the VA (400,000 as of December 2014) and highlighting the progress the VA has taken in the last few years to increase its support of women’s needs was at the top of Roybal’s list. She pointed out that the VA provides women’s services Monday-Friday, when just ten years ago they only offered afternoon clinics two days a week.

The VA now offers a women’s comprehensive health clinic and is currently researching more ways to improve service to women veterans such as flexible hours, weekend and after-hours services, child care, acute and chronic needs, menopausal needs, mental health, geriatrics and extended care, Roybal said.

After her briefing, Royal introduced Chief Master Sgt. Jo Keller, 452nd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, and Airman Sasha Langley, 452nd Air Mobility Wing, for a demonstration and real-life testimony about what it’s like to wear some of the service members’ training and deployment gear.

Langley demonstrated by wearing the Mission Oriented Protective Posture gear, a flak vest, gas mask and helmet, as well as carrying an M-9 pistol in a holster and an M-4 rifle, while Keller talked about the gear, shared some of her experiences and answered questions.

Next, a civilian volunteered to put the equipment on to experience the heavy load women service members must carry to perform their military duties.

After the demonstration and question answer session the three women received a standing ovation from the audience.

Before ending her portion of the event, Roybal reminded and encouraged people to rethink the image that comes to mind when envisioning a veteran, to include women, because, “not every GI is a Joe.”

The Inland Empire Veterans Mental Health Collaborative is a network of public and private organizations that shares ideas, knowledge and resources to improve the access to and quality of mental health services for veterans, military personnel and their families, and increase public awareness of the unique needs of this special segment of our population.