April 26, 2016

Sgt. Shaft caricatureDear Sgt Shaft
Are you familiar with the new members on the VA’s Women Veterans Committee?

Jessica B.
Via the Internet

Dear Jessica
I understand that five new members were recently appointed to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Advisory Committee on Women Veterans (Committee), an expert panel that advises VA’s Secretary on issues and programs impacting women Veterans. Established in 1983, the Committee makes recommendations to the Secretary for policy and legislative changes.

“The Committee’s guidance is instrumental in shaping VA policy for women Veterans, and providing insight on their diverse needs,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald. “VA anticipates the important contributions and fresh perspectives the newest members will offer to this invaluable Committee.” The new members are:

  • Kailyn Bobb, Plumas Lake, CA. A U.S. Air Force Veteran; currently pursuing a doctoral degree in clinical psychology from California School of Professional Psychology, Alliant International University.
  • Keith Howard-Streicher, Alexandria, VA. A Veteran of the U.S. Army; currently serves as Assistant Director, Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division, at The American Legion.
  • Edna Boyd Jones, Norcross, GA. A retired U.S. Army Colonel, with service in the Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom; currently serves as the Assistant Professor of Nursing at Albany State University.
  • Leslie N. Smith, King George, VA. A retired U.S. Army Captain; currently serves as co-founder and spokesperson for Fatigues to Fabulous, a non-profit women Veterans organization.
  • Janet M. West, Jacksonville, FL. An active duty U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander, with service in Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom; currently serves as senior medical officer at Jacksonville Naval Air Station Branch Health Clinic.

Mary Westmoreland (Retired U.S. Army Colonel), who has diligently served on the Committee since 2012, was appointed as the Committee’s new chair. Committee members Sara McVicker (U.S. Navy Veteran) Washington, DC, and Tia Christopher (U.S. Navy Veteran), Dallas, TX were reappointed for an additional term.

For information about VA’s benefits and services for women Veterans, visit www.va.gov/womenvet or contact the Women Veterans Call Center at 1-855-829-6636. The Women Veterans Call Center is available to address concerns of women Veterans, their families and caregivers, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., ET, and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., ET.

Shaft Notes
The American Legion has endorsed a bill introduced in the Senate that would provide benefits to veterans exposed to radioactive fallout while serving in the Marshall Islands.

“The American Legion Magazine recently reported on the enormous health toll environmental exposure has had on clean-up workers who served at Enewetak Atoll and other areas that conducted nuclear testing,” said American Legion National Commander Dale Barnett. “Many of the workers, particularly those involved in operations conducted after the actual testing, are routinely denied benefits. Plutonium has a half-life of 24,000 years. The fact that testing ended in the 1960’s is irrelevant to those who had to clean up the waste in the following decades. The cancer rate among these veterans far exceeds those in similar age groups. Delegates at our 2014 National Convention in Charlotte unanimously passed a resolution calling for VA to examine and treat veterans exposed to environmental hazards. As one veteran said, ‘invisible bullets entered out bodies.”

Barnett commended Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.; Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Rep. Mark Takai, D-Hawaii, for introducing the Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act, which provides for the treatment and service-connection presumption of certain disabilities that could be related to service in the cleanup operations.

“Many of these veterans waited long enough to receive the benefits that they deserve,” Barnett said. “Unfortunately, some have died while waiting. I urge our members and other concerned Americans to contact their congressional delegations and ask that they pass this bipartisan legislation and put an end to this wait.”

The Washington DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center is joining forces with Casey Trees, volunteers and community partners to plant 50 trees on the medical center’s Irving Street campus. The trees will commemorate the hospital’s 50 years of service to Veterans and will provide a living legacy for the community for many years to come.

The medical center’s 50th Anniversary Activities Committee launched the idea which will provide a place of healing and much-needed green space for the hospital’s urban environment. Two trees were planted in late summer 2015 as part of the formal anniversary celebration which commemorated the medical center’s grand opening in 1965.

Casey Trees is donating various types of shade and evergreen trees which will line the perimeter of the medical center. With VA caregivers, Veterans, active duty service members, Red Cross volunteers and others joining in, the endeavor represents a true community effort. More than 100 volunteers have already signed up to take part in the tree planting project. “This is an engaging opportunity to bring the community together; a true community effort that has been months in the planning,” said Medical Center Director Brian A. Hawkins, MHA.

The committee worked for eight months to coordinate the logistics and numerous details for this large-scale project. Local community groups are providing breakfast, lunch and beverages for the volunteers.

According to Dr. Behram Pastakia, the DC VA Medical Center radiologist who helped spearhead the planting of the saplings, the campus will become a therapeutic walkway. “Healing is more than just medication; the trees will allow Veteran-patients to get close to nature and will have a positive effect on their outlook.”

To learn more about the tree-planting project or to cover this community event that will provide a living legacy for Veterans and the DC community, contact the Office of Public Affairs, 202-745-4037.


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