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Veterans Crisis Line Badge

Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Robert A. McDonald

20th Anniversary of VA Center for Women Veterans
Washington, DC
November 19, 2014

Elisa, thank you for that introduction.

Dr. Susan Howard Mather, Ms. Joan Furey, Dr. Irene Trowell-Harris—welcome back to all of you.

And to our honored guests, women Veterans, thank you for your sacrifice and your service. It’s today and every day that we honor you.

Other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

This is the second time in as many weeks that I’ve helped celebrate women Veterans. Last Monday, I joined First Lady Michelle Obama at the inaugural Women Veterans Career Development Forum. We announced several initiatives to help women Veterans transition from military service to civilian careers, there in Arlington at the Women in Military Service to America Memorial.

If any of you haven’t been to that shrine, you owe it to yourselves and to all women who have served. Spend some time there, learning and reflecting. There’s so much to celebrate.

Straight across the Potomac is the Lincoln Memorial, and etched on a wall there is President Lincoln’s second inaugural address—when he gave a wounded Nation a vision for healing.

He charged us “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan . . . .”

Powerful, hallowed language.

But time marches on, and we’d be remiss not to understand that Lincoln’s sentiments must also acknowledge the vast contributions women have made in service to the Nation.

It was in 1781 when Deborah Samson signed up and served in uniform during the Revolutionary War. She registered as Robert Shurtlieff. The other Soldiers called her “Bob.” I can just hear her now, “Call me Bob.”

Thousands of other women served during the Revolutionary War in a variety of ways, to include as both nurses and as spies.

In the Civil War, there was Dr. Mary Walker among many, many others. Dr. Walker’s perseverance earned her the title of Acting Assistant Surgeon for the Army. And for her courage, she was presented the Medal of Honor.

More recently, there is Specialist Monica Brown in Afghanistan. Under intense enemy fire, she saved the life of two of her fellow Soldiers. Only 19 years old, Specialist Brown was awarded the Silver Star for valor.

We could name many, many more heroes like these. But a few simple observations put the question of women Veterans’ tremendous service to rest. Our Nation has 359,000 women serving right now—about 16 percent of the Active, Guard, and Reserve force. And women Veterans represent 10.5 percent of all Veterans in the United States.

They earned the title of Veteran. We’re proud of all of them.

Because of their service and sacrifice, we describe our mission today as caring for those “who shall have borne the battle,” and for their families and their survivors.

That is the best and most inspiring mission in government.

Since the turn of the century, the number of women Veterans using VA health care has more than doubled—now nearly 400,000. By 2020, women Veterans will represent 12.5 percent of our total Veteran population. By 2040, that number will approach 20 percent.

Those estimates mean we have a lot of work to do here in Veterans Affairs. We have to ensure VA serves all Veterans in the way they want and need to be served—so every Veteran can all call it MyVA, and see it as an organization that they own and that treats them as they want to be treated

Well, right now, VA’s gender-specific health care is too limited in some areas, and too many of our facilities were designed without women Veterans’ needs in mind. We have to change that.

Too many women Veterans are not aware of, and don’t apply for, the benefits and services they’ve earned. We have to change that.

Some women Veterans don’t identify themselves as Veteran. We have to change that.

Women Veterans are at a higher risk of homelessness, and the number of homeless women Veterans is increasing, even though overall Veteran homelessness has decreased by 33 percent. This group of leaders has to change that.

We are making progress, but we have a lot of work to do in those and in other areas.

We started making real progress 20 years ago. Two public servants and friends of Veterans took the lead in Congress to make sure the right resources were in place—Senator Daniel K. Akaka and Ranking Member Maxine Waters.

Senator Akaka could not attend this celebration and had to send his regrets, but he also sent his best, warm wishes, which I’ll share. Senator Akaka wrote, “Aloha and congratulations for the celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the Center for Women Veterans. You have truly made a difference meeting the needs of our Women Veterans. The increasing numbers of Veterans requiring your assistance make the work that you do so important and necessary. My best wishes to all of you for your continued success in your efforts to serve and maintain the well-being of women Veterans.”

My thanks to Senator Akaka out in Hawai’i.

Ranking Member Maxine Waters is the true matriarch of the Center for Women Veterans. It was her work on House Resolution 3013, back in the 1994, that made the Center a long overdue reality.

To share a few words from Congresswoman Waters* and receive a presentation on her behalf, I’d like to welcome to the podium Representative Waters’ Chief of Staff, Mr. Twaun Samuel.

*Ranking Member Waters reported that she arrived at the celebration late due to selection of the ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC). The Democratic Steering Committee selected Rep. Corrine Brown as the next Ranking Member of the HVAC.