December 22,2014

Hoosier Women Vets Wait for Advocate at State VA

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Leigh DeNoon

Many veteran advocates have been waiting since July for the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs to hire a new Women Veterans Coordinator. That’s when a law took effect authorizing the position that will serve as a champion for the growing number of women veterans in the state.

More than 35,000 women veterans live in Indiana, and women make up the fastest growing segment of the veteran population. Lisa Wilken, an Air Force veteran and the women’s liaison for Indiana AMVETS, says with women serving in combat – the veterans are having more issues and need to connect to appropriate resources.

“When it comes to disability compensation, we see women veterans receiving a lower compensation rates than our male counterparts – when their conditions are very similar,” Wilken said. “We also see a rise in homelessness of women veterans. A woman veteran is nine times more likely to be homeless than a non woman veteran.”

According to a report by the American Legion, many female soldiers don’t identify as veterans or know what benefits they are eligible to receive. Iraq war veteran Christy Lee Vickers followed in both parents’ footsteps to serve in the Army, and saw the gender divide first-hand in her family.

“My father is now retired medically from the Army and my mother never considered herself a veteran until I got back from Iraq and I kept telling her, ‘You served, you count, you’re a veteran,’” Vickers said.

Retired Navy nurse Lori Turpin is the Hendricks County Veterans Service Officer. She helps veterans of all ages and from all conflicts fill out paperwork to get appropriate benefits. She says there’s a definite need for a State Women Veterans Coordinator.

“I help veterans everyday. And I have other Service Officers calling me and say, ‘Can you help a female veteran?’ because they know that somebody would be more comfortable talking to me than someone else,” Turpin said. “And I’m spread thin because I’m there by myself.”

Community advocates also see the need for a state coordinator and have been trying to take up the slack. Lorraine Marshall is an Air Force Desert Storm veteran with Sister Soldier Network.

“We have a passion for veteran women that are homeless with children. Because we feel like they are one of the most underserved populations,” Marshall said. “We have facilities for veterans that don’t have children – but it’s really hard pressed to find those with children accommodation.”

Advocates like Lisa Wilken say they appreciate the law establishing the women veterans coordinator job, but they weren’t happy with a last-minute wording change that they say gives the state wiggle room to eliminate it.

“It’s important that that position be permanent and that’s why we’re seeking to complete our legislation this year so that the position of State Women Veteran Coordinator can’t be done away with by this administration or any administration in the future,” Wilken said.

State representative Karlee Macer of Indianapolis sponsored the bill, and says she supports legislative wording changes to make the position permanent. The Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs says interviews for the job are underway now.  Macer expects a final selection by mid January.

Learn more at http://www.wfyi.org/news/articles/women-veterans-coordinator