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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Denis R. McDonough

Military Women’s Memorial 25th Anniversary
Arlington National Cemetery
October 15, 2022

Chief Wilson, thank you for that kind introduction. More importantly, thank you for your service in uniform and your leadership of the Military Women’s Memorial.

Secretary of Defense Austin, my friend and colleague, it’s an honor to be here with you.

Let me also recognize Military Women’s Memorial Board Chair, Major General Edmunds, and all the members of the Board.

And General Vaught, so good to see you. Thank you for your decades of service to this nation in uniform, and in the decades since, helping give our country this sacred space.

This past summer, in presenting General Vaught the Medal of Freedom, President Biden described her as one of those extraordinary Americans who has done so much “to ensure,” as he said, “the cause of freedom shines like the sun ....”

That’s exactly what this memorial is about. It’s about ensuring women Veterans’ courageous service and enormous sacrifices for the cause of freedom shine like the sun, as bright as the sun beaming down upon us through this crystal ceiling today. It’s about ensuring our country, and the world, knows the heroic stories of Women Veterans, stories that guide us, and inspire us, and will do so for generations to come. And by extension, this memorial is about the contributions this nation’s women Veterans make to the country in the years after serving in uniform.

Here’s what I mean. Lieutenant Colonel Patricia Jackson-Kelley was born in the very small town of Bayboro, North Carolina—part of a family with a tradition of service to their country, and to their community. Her father was a Veteran of World War II, her brothers and sisters are Veterans, and her mom was a devoted nurse’s assistant.

Well, her mom’s example inspired Patricia to be a nurse. And then she took that calling and followed in her father’s and brothers’ footsteps, volunteering to serve the nation in uniform as a nurse, for 26 years.

And even as Patricia was serving in the Army Reserves out in California, she stepped up to serve Vets at our West Los Angeles VA Hospital. There, over the course of 14 years as a VA nurse, her second career, Patricia was fighting for Vets who needed her compassion and nursing excellence the most—Vets struggling with mental health challenges, with substance abuse challenges, and with homelessness.

For 10 of those years as the Women Veteran Program Manager, Patricia was advocating for women Vets. And, for her, that advocacy meant, in part, going to the very front lines of homelessness in LA, skid row, often alone, to find and connect with women Veterans who had fallen into homelessness and help them get the support they neednot just to survive, but to thrive. Because of her expertise, Patricia was asked to help shape some of our partners’ most effective programs for ending Veteran homelessness.

And in the years since retiring from the Army and Veterans Affairs, Patricia continues serving her community, this country, and fighting for Veterans in an abundance of ways—as the County of Los Angeles Commissioner for Military and Veteran Affairs in the 2nd District, as President of the National Association of Black Military Women, on the Board of the Foundation for Women Warriors, and with the non-profit Women Veterans on Point, among so much more.

Patricia’s incredible life is a reminder for all of us that so many Women Vets like her don’t just serve while in uniform. They serve for a lifetime. Over the years, Patricia has served her country. She’s served her fellow Vets. She’s served us all. And we are, all of us, so much better for it.

Patricia, could please you stand and be recognized?

Thank you for your courageous service. Thank you for continuing to serve. And thanks for showing your community and your country what fighting for Vets looks like. It’s inspiring. And it’s important.

Here’s why. When you and all the Vets here signed up to serve our country in the military, we made you a promise. If you fight for us, we will fight for you. If you serve us, we will serve you. If you take care of us, we will take care of you when you come home. The thing is, our country as a whole makes that promise. But it’s our job and our privilege at the Department of Veterans Affairs to keep that promise to you.

So let me speak directly to you for a moment, to our women Vets and our women service members, alike.

Etched in the glass panes in the ceiling above us are some powerful words spoken by courageous, powerful women Vets. And when the sun hits that glass just right, these walls are illuminated with those words. It’s a sight to behold.

Well, none of those words are more instructive, none more illuminating, than the words of World War II Veteran Lieutenant Anne Brehm. And Lieutenant Brehm’s words always bear repeating—as an admonition to those who need one, and a reminder to any who would forget.

She said, “Let the generations know that women in uniform also guaranteed their freedom. That our resolve was as great as the brave men who stood among us. And with victory, our hearts were just as full and beat just as fast—that the tears fell just as hard for those we left behind us.”

You and your sisters-in-arms, back to even before the founding of this country, and  bravely, selflessly standing guard around the world today—we owe you everything. And today, you’re the fastest growing segment of VA enrollees. We’re mighty proud to serve you, to support you.

And while we haven’t always done as well by you at VA as we should have, today we’re fighting like hell to reach a high, high bar—serving you as well as you have served all of us by delivering timely access to world-class health care and earned benefits you’ve earned, and deserve.

And we’ve been taking important steps to do that, to make our health care facilities and programs safe, respectful, and welcoming to you. For instance, women Veterans are offered assignment to a designated Women’s Health Primary Care Provider—that’s for both general primary care and gender-specific primary care. We have Women Vet Coordinators in every regional office, there to help you access your benefits and provide assistance specific to women Veterans.

And please, do not ever forget. The benefits and services VA offers are your benefits and services. You earned them. You deserve them. And we want you to take full advantage of them. Because, at VA, we want to give you our very best—just like you gave your very best for our country.

Today, and every day, we celebrate and honor the tremendous courage of women Vets who’ve defended our freedom.

May your courage, your unwavering strength, and your sacrifices continue to “shine like the sun” and guide and inspire us all.

General Vaught, Chief Wilson, thank you for your kind invitation. Congratulations, everyone, on this important milestone. God bless you all. And God bless our nation’s servicemembers, our Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors.

Thank you.