2021 Women Veteran Trailblazers
This year’s Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Center for Women Veteran’s (CWV) 2021 Trailblazers: Women Veterans Leading the Way campaign features 27 women Veterans.
CWV sponsors an annual campaign in honor of Women’s History Month and throughout the year celebrates the contributions of these trailblazers and women Veterans, representing all military branches, during and after their military service.
“The women Veteran trailblazer initiative highlights the experiences and contributions of women Veterans and shares their stories about how their military service and experiences led to their continued roles as leaders and advocates in the communities where they live and work,” said Acting VA Director for the Center for Women Veterans Elizabeth Estabrooks. “Initiatives like this and other CWV campaigns are designed to showcase the unique contributions of women Veterans and help transform the culture of VA and the public by changing notions around what it means to be a Veteran.”
The campaign showcases the impact these trailblazers have made on a single event or action or demonstrated over time in the areas of education, employment, entrepreneurship, homelessness, law, mental health and wellness.
Women Veterans are one of the fastest growing demographics within VA, expecting to reach nearly 20% of the Veteran population by 2045. “Few better exemplify the courage of American women in the fight for equality than those who have served this country in uniform even as they fought our nation’s wars. Women have been defending our freedom in every conflict since the Revolutionary War.
Adams, Zaneta I.
In 2006, after eight years of service as a member of the U.S. Army, National Guard and Reserve, Zaneta Adams was medically discharged with honor. During her time in the military, she Adams served as a Joint Counter Narcotics Task Force Agent for the National Guard. Prior to her appointment, Zaneta was an attorney at Williams Hughes, PLLC assisting Veterans with compensation and pension appeals.
She has consistently demonstrated leadership through service and board membership which includes serving as a Veterans State Contact for Senator Debbie Stabenow; an advocate, spokesperson and board member of Challenge America, a national Veteran resource non-profit organization; and Founder of WINC: For All Women Veterans (Women Injured in Combat), an advocacy group for Michigan women Veterans. She founded a national advocacy group called WINC: For All Women Veterans, in order to bring awareness to the issues facing women Veterans. When she was appointed Director of the MVAA in June 2019, she refocused the agency on its core mission of getting Veterans and their families connected to benefits and services. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Columbia College and Juris Doctor degree from Western Michigan Cooley Law School.
Danielle Applegate is the Director of Veteran and Military Engagement for Cerner Government Services. She has served as the Vice President of VetsFirst at the United Spinal Association, a VA-certified Veteran Service Organization and as the first National Outreach Coordinator for the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Center for Women Veterans. She also founded Applegate Solutions, a successful Service-Disabled Veteran Owned, Woman Owned Small Business that provided management consulting and subject matter expertise to an array of clients including the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs, as well as private and nonprofit organizations. She served five years in the United States Army. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Human Resources and Business Administration, a master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Massachusetts, and a certificate from Georgetown University in Nonprofit Executive Management. She has served on the Advisory Council for Final Salute, on the Women Joining Forces Council for Business and Professional Women’s Foundation, the American Legion’s Small Business Council, and the Camp Lejeune Community Action Panel.
Charley, Beverly A
Beverly A. Charley joined the U.S. Army in Feb 1991 and served through May 2005 with 14yrs of honorable service. Her deployments included Somalia, Africa, two tours to Haiti and a tour in Iraq. After 9 years with the NM Department of Workforce Solutions as a Local Veterans Employment Representative, Beverly transferred to the NM Department of Veterans Services where she currently works as a Veterans Service Officer (VSO). In 2012, Beverly organized a first ever, homeless Veterans “Stand Down” event in the community of San Juan County (Farmington), New Mexico. Stand Down is a military term referring to an opportunity to achieve a brief respite from combat. In this spirit, the 2012 Farmington, New Mexico Stand Down/Project Hand-up was a two-day event designed as brief respite from the combat our homeless veterans are still fighting every day with mental and physical illness, hunger, and lack of warmth and shelter. This event was held at the local VFW and served 167 homeless Veterans and there were 12 agencies represented that provided warm clothing, a hot meal, counseling and housing assistance. From the initial stand down, this has become an annual event that occurs every year in October/November. Beverly has been appointed as the “Tribal Liaison” working directly with the States Indian Affairs Department on Native American issues. Beverly is the Founding Commander for the (all female) Lady Warriors AMVETS Post #1912 Color Guard and within her first year, the Organization was invited to present the colors at the 10th Annual Women Veterans Memorial in Washington DC. She is a current member of The Women Veterans of N.M. and a life-time member of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #2182.
Ms. Chitwood is the founder and executive director of Robin’s Home, Inc., which is a non-profit agency that provides services to homeless, unstably housed and low-income female Veterans and their children. The program is unique in our county, as there are no other housing options specific to this population. Robin’s Home is named after Mary’s friend, Robin Arnold, an Army Veteran who served in Support of Operation Desert Storm. Robin dealt with PTSD and MST. Unfortunately, Robin passed away on January 27, 2017 from complications of surgery. Mary made it her mission to open Robin’s Home in her friend’s honor. Mary Chitwood served in the US Army from 2003 to 2006, during her enlistment she was stationed at Fort Irwin, CA. She was awarded Five Army Achievement Medals, Army Commendation Medal and Good Conduct Medal. She holds a bachelor and master’s degrees in Criminal Justice Administration and Security from University of Phoenix.
Viviana DeCohen is a Marine Corps Veteran and serves the City of Mt. Vernon as its Commissioner of Veterans Services. While attending Mercy College in pursue of her under-graduate degree, Viviana established the first Veterans’ center to support academic achievement and markedly improve their graduation rate at Mercy College. As a result of a $5,000 grant that Viviana wrote and won through Home Depot, she created an environment in the Center that provided computers, appropriate furniture, and a library—what she calls, “The right space for academic success”. She also developed “Operation Buddy-Up” which partnered academically challenged student-Veterans with stronger classmates. It was designed to mirror the military’s philosophy of “No Buddy Left Behind.” Upon graduation, Mercy College hired Viviana as an Academic Advisor where she expanded “Operation Buddy-Up.” Her program now reached out to include Veteran dropouts and paired them with Veterans with a Grade Point Average of 3.5 and above. As the Academic Advisor, she developed “Operation Push” which was designed to provide encouragement, information, scholarships and support for those Veterans who were now able to earn graduate degrees. Of the 211 Veterans who participated in this program all graduated with GPAs of at least 3.0 and enrolled In Masters’ programs. Viviana is in pursuing her Doctorate in Educational Leadership and Gerontology and serving in various capacities in Veterans’ organizations such as National Association of Veteran Program Administrators, Women Marines Association, and the Barbara Giordano Foundation.
Carol Eggert began her career as an enlisted soldier in the regular Army where she served in the Army Band and the United States Army Recruiting Command. She was commissioned in 1985 as a Distinguished Military Graduate through the Officer Candidate School. Brigadier General Eggert has served in a wide variety of field assignments. She is a graduate of the prestigious U.S. Army War College, where she served on the faculty and was later selected as the Deputy Commandant. Carol's military career includes a 15-month combat tour in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom as Chief of the Women's Initiatives Division. Carol also served as Senior Liaison to the U.S. Embassy, Baghdad, where she conducted a full-scale analysis of women's initiatives and developed a strategic plan for the economic and political empowerment of Iraqi women under the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton. She is the recipient of numerous awards and commendations in recognition of her contributions and service in the military, including the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and multiple Meritorious Service Medal awards. In her current role as Senior Vice President for Military and Veteran Affairs at Comcast NBCUniversal, Carol has led Comcast’s programs to be recognized as the nation’s leading corporate initiatives supporting Veterans. Knowing the invaluable skills military service members have, Carol has worked to bridge the gap between military service and the workforce by partnering with the Society for Human Resource Management Foundation to develop a Veterans at Work Certificate program. This course leverages critical insights from subject matter experts and the latest research to equip HR professionals with actionable tools necessary to confidently adapt their workplace into one that attracts, hires, and retains vVeterans, military spouses, caregivers, and other members of the military community. Over the last three years, she has joined forces with my Foundation’s Hidden Heroes Cities and Counties Program as a signature partner. The collaboration with Comcast NBCUniversal is designed to increase awareness and equip military and Veteran caregivers across the U.S. with the tools and resources they need at the local level, and offers state and local officials a way to work with public and private sector partners to build local systems for caregiver support.
Maureen Elias served as a counterintelligence agent in the US Army from 2001-2006. Since her separation from service she has embraced a life of service and worked to empower other Veterans. While attending Bowie State University (BSU), she served as President of the BSU Student Veterans Association, Vice President of the Graduate Student Association, and formed a student organization to help support her fellow students pass their comprehensive exams. She was selected for the Veterans in Global Leadership Fellowship, recognized as a Hillvets100, and named Armed Forces Insurance Fort Meade Base Spouse of the Year. She was also selected for the High Ground Veterans Advocacy (HGVA) Fellowship and was hired on at Vietnam Veterans of America shortly after completing the fellowship. In her role, Maureen traveled the nation teaching nurses, doctors, and other health care providers about the health effects of military service, advocating for recognition of the toxic effects of burn pits and other toxic exposures during military service. In December of 2019, she began working at Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA). During her time working at PVA, Maureen has participated in multiple Senate and House roundtables advocating for improvements to the healthcare and benefits of women Veterans. She has testified before Congress on the need for improvements to reproductive health care, how to better empower Veteran job seekers with disabilities, and improvements to benefits for survivors. Several of the bills she has actively advocated for were passed in the 116th Congressional session including bills to improve VA mental health care and the VA Specially Adapted Home Grant. She also was involved in working to get the Deborah Sampson Act passed. Maureen is also a director and secretary of the HGVA Fellowship, a program aimed at coaching Veterans how to be successful in national advocacy. She is also an active alumnus and storytelling instructor of the Armed Service Arts Partnership, a program that helps integrate Veterans, service members, and military families into their communities through the arts. Maureen holds a master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling from Bowie State University (BSU).
Dr. Amelia Estwick served 8 years in the United States Army and the National Guard. She is a Gulf-War Veteran. Additionally, she is a life-long public servant as worked a U.S. Department of Defense civil servant for over 15 years in support of cyber security and homeland defense. She now serves as the Director of the National Cybersecurity Institute at Excelsior College, while also serving in a leadership role with Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS). Dr. Estwick co-founded and is Vice President of the WiCyS Mid-Atlantic Affiliate in Washington, DC; the first-ever WiCyS regional Affiliate. She is dedicated and passionate about supporting female military members and Veterans on their educational and professional career paths. In 2019, Dr. Estwick led the WiCyS Veteran Community to establish the Veteran Assistance Program (VAP) to support women military and Veterans and grow a diverse, equitable, and inclusive cybersecurity workforce. Under her leadership, VAP received national funding to launch the VAP Fellowship Awards which sponsored 26 WiCyS Veteran members to receive the Inaugural VAP Fellowship Award. The Inaugural VAP Fellowship Award offered WiCyS Veteran members an all-expense paid trip to the 2020 WiCyS National Conference, and this VAP Fellowship Award will now be an annual award. Dr. Estwick is leading the next phase of the VAP program called, the Veteran Apprenticeship Program. This program will provide workforce development opportunities (e.g. education, & training) to WiCyS military and Veteran members desiring a career in cybersecurity. In 2019, she published an article titled, “Female Veterans Ready to Fill Cybersecurity Jobs” in the U.S. Cybersecurity Magazine to highlight the importance of hiring women Veterans to fill the cybersecurity workforce gap. In this widely circulated publication, Dr. Estwick discussed some of the challenges military and Veterans experience entering the workforce and the transferrable skills they possess that are applicable to the cybersecurity workforce. Amelia’s advocacy led to her selection in providing congressional testimony on Growing and Diversifying the Cyber Talent Pipeline before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Innovation, where she discussed the importance of being a woman, minority, and Veteran in the cybersecurity field.
Facciponti, Cassandra V.
Cassandra V. Facciponti served in US Army and is the Co-Founder of Operation Shockwave, an Arizona nonprofit that prevents Veteran suicide by empowering Veterans to overcome adversity through the promotion of complementary healing modalities, community outreach opportunities, and transitional/rehabilitation services. Ms. Facciponti’s work is instrumental in identifying risk factors for Veteran’s in crisis. She is a graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point. During her career, she was stationed in Germany, Fort Leonard Wood, MO, West Point, NY and deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom V and IV. She was awarded the Bronze Star for her actions on deployment. During her tour of duty as a Tactical Officer at West Point (2009-2013), she used her innate ability to interact with cadets to become a champion for major change efforts in the Academy's approach to sexual harassment and assault. She teamed with two cadets and developed a grass roots movement called Cadets Against Sexual Harassment and Assault (CASHA) in order to mitigate and prevent occurrences of sexual violence within the United States Corps of Cadets. CASHA has grown in size and applicability since being adopted by Academy leadership in 2014. She worked at the Office of the Provost Marshal General, Pentagon for over two years as a Program Analyst. In September 2013, seeing a need to bring fugitive soldiers to justice, protect the community, and provide closure to victims and/or their families, she spearheaded the development of the Army Fugitive Apprehension Program. Under her 19-month tenure, the Army, in conjunction with the US Marshals and other federal law enforcement agencies, apprehended 21 fugitives including four murderers (one on the run for over 30 years), nine rapists, and eight child molesters. Operation Shockwave programs have contributed to a 30 percent increase in the number of Veterans that have completed substance abuse programs. She continues to serve her community as a member of the Phoenix VA Hospital Mental Health Advisory Board, Post Service Officer and E-Board member of American Legion Post 35, Emotional Support Team Leader for Speak Up Stand Up Save a Life Conference, while working full-time towards a PhD in Performance Psychology at Grand Canyon University.
Sandra Franks served in United States Air Force and served for 23 years, retiring in 1997. During her career she was the first woman to serve as First Sergeant of a Rescue and Recovery Squadron and was promoted to Master Sergeant under the Stripes for Exceptional Performers. She is the recipient of several awards to include Airman, NCO, Senior NCO and First Sergeant of the Year. In 2007, she joined Overton Brooks VA Medical Center as the Public Affairs Officer, retiring in 2014. She is a lifetime member of the Disabled American Veterans and holds a state office as the Women Veterans Coordinator. She is a member of the Women’s Healthcare Committee at Overton Brooks VA Medical Center and the Co-chair of Community Veterans Engagement Board. She was recognized as an Honor recipient at a local Veterans Day program. In 2017 she founded a non-profit organization to serve women Veterans, Women Veterans of the Ark La Tex (WVALT) (the geographical area of northwest Louisiana, east Texas and southwest Arkansas). It is the largest women Veterans’ organization in Louisiana and the only women Veterans group servicing east Texas and southwestern Arkansas. The mission of WVALT is to honor and assist women Veterans who have and continue to pave the way to freely serve our country. She organizes the largest women Veterans’ informational seminar in Louisiana presenting a free seminar which provides guest speakers in the areas of women’s health, mental health, financial issues, nutrition and exercise and VA benefits. The seminar in 2019 was attended by 120 women Veterans. There was no seminar in 2020 but the next one is planned for June 11 and 12, 2021 and will celebrate Women Veterans Day on the 12th. In addition to starting the women Veterans’ group, Mrs. Franks was the spearhead to raise funds to erect a Women Veterans Monument in the local community. Fundraising for the monument took over three years to raise the approximately $90,000.00 to complete the project. The monument is the only one in the southern United States from coast to coast. It is a bronze, one of a kind, life size statue of a woman warrior in battle dress uniform. She stands on a granite pedestal with the inscription, “Dedicated to those who have, those who are, and those who will serve our great Nation” and a granite base with the five bronze service seals. The dedication of the monument was November 11, 2020 and was attended by over 200 guests, Veterans, elected officials, citizens and the Louisiana Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Kristin Gyford is a United States Air Force Veteran and a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) founded Still Serving Counseling and Services with a vision of helping Veterans, first responders and their families in her community. Her dedication to the community has far exceeded what others thought imaginable. She has advocated on the macro level against change of statewide policy for Veteran continuity of mental health care while also procuring grants to ensure Veterans who have fallen through gaps of insurance companies can receive mental health services. She additionally runs a non-profit, sits on boards for community non-profits and attends community gatherings to support various causes. Kristin continually sets the standard of a trailblazer in the Central Oregon Community. Recently, Kristin established an intern hub in her clinic to ensure Veterans in graduate school can learn hands on how to “pay it forward” to care for other Veterans. Veteran and civilian graduate students while learning therapy skills and developing valuable community resources for helping clients beyond the walls of the clinic.
Hanible, Tee Marie
Tee Marie Hanible is a United States Marine Corps Veteran. In 2003, she was deployed as the only female in one of the first units to Iraq. In August 2011, Tee Hanible founded Operation Heroes Connect, an organization that partners service members and Veterans as full time mentors for at-risk youth. Her organization facilitates an annual weeklong summer youth sleep-away camp program in which up to 100 local youth from the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia areas are afforded an opportunity they wouldn’t normally get to attend a week-long summer enrichment camp for free. Tee Marie’s Veteran ran organization also provides community driven Homeless Dinner Services each year during its “30 Days of Giving Campaign” and also facilitates an “Adopt a Family” program to local families and individuals in need throughout the Northern Virginia area. Tee Hanible was honored at the White House by President Barack Obama for her work during active duty, as well as her off-duty volunteer service throughout her community. She went on to be featured in Newsweek Magazine “Heroes Edition” publication and featured in The Daily Beast Heroes Summit. Tee Marie is also attributed for assisting and assembling the Marine Corps’ first ever “Marine Week” Youth Academy program led by service members and Veterans for 250 local Cleveland, Ohio area youth and was subsequently honored by the mayor of Cleveland. Tee Hanible is also the first military recipient of the prestigious “Washingtonian of the Year” award; an award normally coveted by doctors and other such humanitarians for her work with her nonprofit as well as her work in singlehandedly raising $7,000 to directly benefit homeless females Veterans in the D.C. and Northern Virginia area. Tee Hanible has also co-starred on FOX’s “American Grit” alongside John Cena as the only military female expert on the show. Tee Hanible served as the National Veteran’s Chair for “Women’s March on D.C.” which drew an estimated 250,000 plus people to the Washington, D.C. and has been labeled the largest peaceful protest since the anti-Vietnam War protests in the 1960s and 1970s. With an additional estimated 3,300,000–5,600,000 in the United States and 5 million worldwide. She went on to become a board member for Women’s March D.C. and the founder of the national “Veterans For Kaepernick” movement against racism and racial injustices that plague this country. Tee is currently a graduate student at Harvard University studying Journalism.
Amanda Huffman served in the Air Force for six years as a Civil Engineer. She left the Air Force shortly after her first son was born while her husband continued to serve in the Air Force. In 2017, she participated in a 31 Day series with a focus on deployment stories. She was looking for stories about deployments and expected the series to primarily highlight men who had served. But what she found was women waiting to share their story. This series shifted the focus of Amanda’s blog and her path forward. She used the series to begin focusing on military women. And began to use her voice for various military publications including Military Spouse Magazine, Military Families Magazine, and NextGen Milspouse. In 2019, she launched Women of the Military podcast with the goal of sharing the stories of military women past and present. She hoped to create a platform to help share the stories of women, but was worried about how she would be able to find women to share their story. But as the podcast grew more women wanted to be on the show. At the end of 2020, she had released 106 podcast episodes highlighting women from all five branches of the military, including stories from the 23rd Secretary of the Air Force, Brig Gen Wilma Vaught, Maj Gen Mari Eder, Maj Gen Dawne Deskins, and the first female thunderbird pilot Col Nicole Malachowski. In 2021, because of the demand of women waiting to share their story on the podcast she moved from weekly episodes to releasing episodes twice a week. The motto of the podcast is Your Story Matters. Amanda believes everyone has a story to share and makes a point to open her podcast to any woman veteran who wants to share their story. The only limitation is the number of stories that she can produce each week. But the podcast is only one of Amanda’s accomplishments she is also an author as both a freelance writer for We are the Mighty, MilSpouseFest, and Military.com and a published author of Women of the Military and Brave Women Strong Faith. She works to highlight the stories of military women through sharing her experience as both a Veteran, military spouse and mom. She is also working on a new project to help connect young women considering military service to have a guide map to help them. In 2019, she created a Girl’s Guide to the Military which answers basic questions, provides advice, and helps women decide if the military is right for them. She hopes to expand her reach by launching a YouTube channel to help reach more women looking to join the military.
Diana Kirkland is a United States Navy Veteran. In 2010 Diana attended the Trio Veterans Upward Bound Program through the University of Pennsylvania to prepare her for Peirce College. She used the Chapter 31 Vocational Readiness Program to attend and earn a bachelor’s degree in Paralegal Studies and was the Class Valedictorian/Speaker earning a 3.91 GPA and Magna Cum Laude Honors. Diana will soon begin working towards her master’s degree in Social Work so she can assist Veterans on a larger scale. After graduating with a BA, Diana began working at the Philadelphia Veteran's Multi-Service Center assisting Veteran's in obtaining housing, education and jobs. Diana’s journey from Military service to this point allowed her to give personal experiences and learned tools to over 50 Women Veterans. These tools made the difference in these women’s lives allowing them to turn the corner and use the VA Benefits they earned and deserved. On 31 May 2016 Diana Started her career at the Department of Veterans affairs as a Legal Administrative Assistant. On 2 Dec 2019, Diana was selected as one of the best qualified and trained public contact representatives and placed on the VA Solid Start Program (VASS) as an outreach specialist. Since Diana started serving on the VASS team, Diana has reached out to over 7,000 Veterans to include over 2,500 Women Veterans. Diana’s knowledge of VA benefits and Women Veteran programs has directly impacted the lives of recently separated women Veterans. Diana has been featured time and again for her experiences as a Woman Veteran. In early 2020, Diana was selected by the Philadelphia public outreach team to be recorded in a training video for newly hired employees depicting a Woman Veteran’s journey and how VA Benefits have made the difference. Diana was selected and be honored on June 17, 2021 as an inaugural Trailblazer in Transformation by Peirce College.
Dr. Crystal Kyle is a US Army Veteran. She deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq as well as participating in the Pentagon clean up following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. This service left her with multiple injuries including severe PTSD, a TBI, hearing loss, and knee problems. She holds two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree from North Carolina A&T State University. Crystal found a great deal of healing while working at the research farm at NC A&T SU. She became a Veteran advocate and earned certificates in Mental Health First Aid, Suicide Prevention, and Curriculum Design. She sought those certifications in order to share the healing she had found in agriculture. These certifications allowed her to design agricultural curriculum with Veteran’s mental health and suicide prevention in mind. She went on to earn her PhD from Virginia Tech. Her research titled “The Formation of Cultural Capital using Symbolic Military Meanings of Objects and Self in an Adult Agricultural Education Program serving Military Veterans” won Outstanding Dissertation Award in 2019. Her groundbreaking research provides documentation and guidance for agricultural education programs to assist vVeterans in healing from the physical and mental wounds of combat. She has continued to utilize her education and experience to assist Veterans on a much larger scale. She now works for USDA/NIFA as a Biological Scientist, administering numerous programs to assist Veterans in finding healing and new purpose in agriculture. A list of the programs Dr. Kyle administers or assists with as part of her job are Enhancing Military Veterans Opportunities in Agriculture (AgVets), Military Families Learning Network (MFLN), Department of Defense Virtual Lab School (VLS), Clearinghouse for Military Family, Readiness Military Reach, Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, Family Advocacy Program (FAP), Army New Parent Program, AF Medical (Mental Health Division), JBSA Substance Abuse Program, Early Learning Matters Curriculum Platform, SBIR 8.12 Small and Medium Farms, 1890 Extension Research Teaching Center of Excellence Evans Allen and 4-H Youth Military Partnership & Outreach.
Sonia Lopez is a US Army Veteran. She graduated from South Texas College of Law in 2001 and immediately began her legal career as a staff attorney with Lone Star Legal Aid. Lone Star Legal Aid focuses its work on helping low‐income clients face civil legal issues, including heling clients maintain their homes, fight foreclosures and evictions, and obtain governmental benefits. She furthered her direct impact in serving veterans and their families when she promoted to supervising Lone Star Legal Aid’s Military & Veterans Unit. This unit serves low‐income Veteran families across 72 counties in southeast Texas, protecting and advancing their civil legal rights by providing advocacy, legal representation, and community education that safeguard equal access to justice. In her leadership role, she has grown the unit from two staff serving the Houston area to twenty staff serving the firm’s entire 72 county area, including Fort Hood. Many Veterans experience a shock when resuming civilian life. Ms. Lopez now serves as Director of Innovative Programming for Lone Star Legal Aid, overseeing not only the Military and Veterans Unit, but also the Crime Victim’s Unit, Conroe Branch office and the Grants Management department. She continues to remain active in supporting Veterans' initiatives in the region.
Shurhonda Love is a US Army Veteran. Shurhonda has more than a decade of experience in providing assistance and education to Veterans through her years of service as a Veteran Service Officer in many VSO offices across the United States. She has assisted Veterans in receiving thousands of dollars in benefits and services provided by the VA. This included years of counseling and education of the many benefits and services provided by the Secretary such as VA Loan Guaranty, SSVF and Housing benefits, Education/Employment and Vocational Rehabilitation benefits, VHA health care benefits, and issues facing sub populations of Veterans such as Women Veterans, homeless Veterans, and Veterans with disabilities. She was employed by the DAV, one of the largest and most reputable Veterans Service Organizations for nearly 12 years. Her service and dedication to Veteran caused her to move quickly through the ranks of the organization to become a member of their National staff as an Assistant National Legislative Director. Shurhonda is currently employed in the Office of Suicide Prevention where she works to ensure that awareness of VA’s Suicide Prevention resources is expanded to not only Veterans receiving care from the VA, but also those that may not. She is dedicated in providing education and resources within her community. Ms. Love is a member of several Veterans Service organizations where she willingly provides education on resources available to Veterans not only by VA, but also within the community. She also is a National Trainer for an up and rapidly increasing Women Veterans network, where she is a Peer Leader.
Abby Malchow is a U.S. Navy Veteran. She deployed to Iraq with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 40 and it was her experiences there and when she returned that led her to become a passionate advocate in Veteran mental health and wellness and suicide prevention. In 2014, Abby was selected to be one of 22 Veterans to advocate for the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for Americas Veterans Act and successfully garnered support from over 60 Congressional leaders. After tirelessly advocating for more than 18 months, the Clay Hunt SAV Act was signed into law by President Obama on February 12, 2015 and aims to reduce Veteran suicide and improve access to mental health care. As an alum of President George W.Bush’s Team 43, a program for Post 9/11 wounded warriors, Abby encouraged her fellow Veterans on a national level to never be afraid to seek support when in need. In 2017 Abby was selected for the inaugural class of President George W. Bush’s Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program where her personal leadership project (PLP) focused on providing targeted intervention to Veterans at risk for suicide on social media through Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology. She partnered with Intel Corporation’s “AI for Good” team to execute her PLP and it was during her fellowship with the George W. Bush Institute that she was selected for a role as Senior Program Manager on Amazon’s Global Military Affairs team. The work Abby did in her PLP led her to lead a similar project at Amazon with RallyPoint, an online social network of 1.7M Service members and Veterans. The project was also a collaboration with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, Harvard University’s Nock Lab, and Amazon Web Service’s Machine Learning team. The project built a Machine Learning (ML) model that quickly analyzed public posts on RallyPoint to help determine users at risk for self-harm in order to aid intervention efforts and ultimately prevent suicide. The success of the RallyPoint project resulted in Abby leading various initiatives for Amazon in Veteran mental health and wellness to include becoming a member of the PREVENTS task force, and obtaining funding to aid nonprofits who experienced increased demand helping Veterans in crisis as a result of COVID-19. Abby’s work also resulted in Amazon becoming the first company to take the PREVENTS Organizational Pledge to REACH in August 2020. Abby also supports Veteran entrepreneurs through her role on the Board of Directors for Warrior Rising, a nonprofit that provides mentorship to Veterans seeking to start a business. Her efforts resulted in her being selected as one of three finalists for Military.com’s 2020 Military Spouse Changemaker of the Year award for the unique benefits MEP provided to military spouses.
Justice Eileen Moore served as an Army combat nurse in Vietnam in 1966 and was awarded the Vietnam Service Medal, the National Defense Medal, and the Cross of Gallantry with Palm. Justice Moore is a staunch advocate for Veteran issues, especially vulnerable Veterans, is the starting place for education, advocacy/community involvement since the late 1990's. Justice Moore single handedly revised the MIL 100 form that is used by courts to identify military/Veterans and advise them of special statutes for them in criminal courts pursuant to PC 858. Justice Moore trailblazes paths with the legislation PC 1170.91 that allowed prior vVeteran prisoners to use the statute retroactively—without Justice Moore and Duncan McVicker the legislation would have been empty words on a page—they gave life to it and made it a reality for so many Veterans providing real processes! She is a prolific writer/advocate and plants new perspectives/ideas that help Veterans in thousands of people’s minds. Justice Moore Chairs and was the impetus behind, the 2008 formation of the California Judicial Council of Veterans and Military Families Subcommittee. A highlight of this almost invisible committee is the curriculum development to train volunteer lawyers to represent Veterans who are serving life sentences in prison before the Board of Parole Hearings. California also has 34 Veteran treatment courts, and this committee has set up a “Listserve” so that information and education can be easily accessed and shared. Justice Moore has written articles, hosted seminars, webinars across the nation/state on these topics, sought after facilitator, moderator, keynote speaker and presenter issues on impacting military, Veterans and families. Justice Moore serves on military/Veterans committees for Bar Associations across government, including the Standing Committee for Armed Forces Law as well as the Veteran Health Committee. Advisor to the Veterans and Military Families Committee for the California Lawyers Association. At the County level, she is an advisor to the Orange County Bar Association's Veterans and Military Families Committee. Moore is a founding member of US VETS Women's Advisory Committee, a life member of Vietnam Veterans of America and local chapter 785. A life member of AMVETS, a member of American Legion Chapter 291, and communicates with the local chapter of Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Virginia “Ginny” Narsete is a United States Air Force Veteran and served during the Vietnam War. In Operation Desert Storm, she served as public affairs director for the Commander of CENTCOM, General Charles Horner. Ginny’s Air Force medals include the Meritorious Service Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal with 2 oak leaf clusters, the Achievement Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Outstanding Unit Medal, Air Force Reserve Medal, Basic Training, and Armed Forces Service Medal. After spending 40 years in government positions, she founded a Nonprofit organization called Operation HerStory. Her first initiative was to build a team and create the Illinois all female Inaugural Honor Flight from Chicago to D.C. This didn’t come without controversy since she quickly noticed most of the passengers were male. There were 9,000 men that enjoyed the honor and recognition of flying to D.C. from Chicago and less than 200 women. That’s when she decided to do something about it. She created the operationherstory.org website, built a team, and created a vision that women Veterans are not invisible. They should be seen, active, and should be proud as female Veterans and stand tall. “You are not invisible” is the motto OHS stands by. Ginny met with the Honor Flight President and they made an agreement. If her team could find 100 women that served from 1940 to 1975 and raise $125,000, the Honor Flight Chicago would handle the logistics. In a few short months, the money was raised, and the women signed up. The honor flight was scheduled to take off in October 2020, however due to COVID, the flight will now happen in 2021. The Pritzker Military Museum and Library gifted a grant for most of the trip while the DAR, VFW, AM LEGION, VA, WIMSA, McCormick Foundation, and several individuals also contributed. $160,000 in donations were raised in 2020. She is an active member of the Union League Club of Chicago and an active member of the DAR Fort Payne Chapter in Naperville. She served as subcommittee chair of the successful Military Troops for Books Program and served for five years as a Board Member for the National Association of Government Communicators. Her professional awards include the Lisa P. Jackson Distinguished Public Service Award as an EPA Administrator, the Federal Employee of the Year as recognized by the Federal Executive Board, the Air Force Reserve Photojournalist of the Year for five consecutive years, and several acclaimed projects in photography and multimedia. She holds a B.A. in Communications from Columbia College and an MBA from Keller Graduate School of Management.
Karla Nemitz is a United States Coast Guard Veteran. In early 2017, while volunteering at the VA hospital in Harlingen, Texas, Karla completed her first 22-hour ruck march to raise money for Stop Solider Suicide. As a part of her fund-raising endeavors, Karla sold palm sized wooden whales. At the request of those mourning the loss of a loved one, several of the whales were inscribed with the name of a Coast Guard member lost to suicide. Carrying those 106 whales in the ruck, Karla was reminded of many CG personnel including one lost in the month prior to the event. Collecting the names focused Karla’s attention on the devastating reality that many Coast Guard men and women have been lost to suicide. To continue her commitment to raise awareness, and to provide an outlet for her emotions, Karla compiled a list of the names. Currently, sadly, there are 243 names on the list. On the subsequent ruck marches Karla continued her efforts to physically carry the memory of the lost CG personnel. In 2018 she carried a 22-pound log inscribed with the names from the list, and in 2019 she carried a new pod of the wooden whales. Searching for additional outlets to address the Military Sexual Trauma (MST) she endured, Karla created the “Art by Karla” social media pages. Through graphic art inspired by events in her life, and the lives of active duty and Veteran personnel from all the military services, Karla confronts many aspects of mental health and wellness. She routinely posts graphic art addressing MST, suicide and suicidal ideations, and post-traumatic stress. With each post, there are details about the various methods to find mental health assistance through the VA and civilian resources. “You give me hope that I’ll be ok.” is a common sentiment in the personal messages Karla receives from those who have endured similar ordeals. During Service Dog Appreciation Month in September 2019, Karla contacted Joaquin Juatai, author of “PTSDog: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the Service Dog” in her quest to honor Service Dogs and their humans. She requested permission to use quotes from his book alongside her graphic art celebrating the vital role of Service Dogs. He gladly agreed and invited Karla to illustrate the children’s book he was writing. The book “Why is That Doggie in the Store?” explains why a Service Dog might be in a store and how to interact with Service Dogs.
Jenny Pacanowski is a United States Army Veteran. She is the Founder and Director of Women Veterans Empowered & Thriving, a reintegration program utilizing writing and performance to empower Veterans’ experiences. She is the Associate Director of Lucid Body with Fay Simpson. In addition, she works as a professional poet, performer, public speaker, and playwright. Jenny has been featured on WFMZ, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Turner Classic Movies, Thriver Thursday’s with Robin Roberts, and The Chew on ABC. She has spoken at Ithaca College, Syracuse University, NYU, Drake University, Haverford College and other institutions throughout the country. In addition to our organization, she has collaborated with Decruit, Aquila Theatre and other Veteran-artist-based organizations. Her reach is far and it grows farther every day.
Deloris (Dee) Quaranta is a United States Air Force Veteran. She is the founder of Northeast Florida Women Veterans. Northeast Florida Women Veterans, Inc. deals with women veterans in a personal way by providing counseling, utility and rent assistance, housing, employment, clothing, bus passes, computer use or anything else women Veterans and their children might need. Most importantly, Dee provides women Veterans with a friend. As the CEO of NFWV, she has developed relationships with key personnel in the City of Jacksonville, the State of Florida, at the Federal Level, civilian organizations, and their key leaders. Dee has grown the Northeast Florida Women Veterans dramatically over the past two years. Under her leadership, the organization provides programs to support the women Veterans: HerTotalWellness, HerHealthyLife and our most recent addition HERBiz. In addition to these wellness and educational seminars, NFWV provides Operation Handup which provides emergency assistance in the areas of shelter, clothing, and food for women Veterans in emergency situations, mental health counseling, employment assistance and ongoing case management for all clients to ensure their wellbeing. In 2020, with the advent of a pandemic, the need of our women Veterans became greater and Dee quickly flexed the NFVW organization to run programs virtually where possible while still maintaining a hands-on safe interaction where needed. Whatever a women Veteran needs, NFWV makes every effort to help the Veteran directly or through their partnerships with community providers. Dee was the honoree at the City of Jacksonville’s Military Appreciation Ceremony in 2020 and the first female and non-commissioned Veteran inducted onto the Kevin Delaney Hall of Fame. Prior to starting the Northeast Florida Women Veterans, Inc., Dee worked for the State of Florida as a Veteran’s representative. Dee created the Women Veterans Recognition Week as a way to honor the sacrifice of women veterans from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Known for her tenacity, Dee expanded Women Veterans Recognition Week from a local to state-wide initiative. She embodies service, sacrifice, dedication, and the highest levels of personal and professional integrity.
Sharon Robino-West served in the United States Marine Corps. After her discharge, she continued serving active duty service members, Veterans and their caregivers, including as a caregiver for her son who served in the infantry during Operation Iraqi Freedom, returning 100 % disabled. She has earned a MA in Leadership and Organizational Change and is a certified Peer Support Specialist. In 2013, she was the Program Manager, Self-Sufficiency/Women Veterans for the Women’s Center for Advancement, where she was invited to create the first Women Veterans Support Program in Nebraska outside of the VA. Her program provided trauma informed emotional support and resources, weekly sexual assault support groups (which she led), employment and housing referrals for women transitioning from the military, Military Sexual Trauma support, and Intimate Partner Violence support and referrals. In her current position as the Community Employment Coordinator, Department of Veterans Affairs, Sharon works with Veterans in the community carving jobs for Homeless Veterans and Veterans in reentry, male and female. She connects many Veterans to employment, Community Resources, Employers, and Veteran Service Officers, assisting them in establishing connections to stability. Sharon was invited to speak at the annual Omaha Chamber of Commerce Hire Omaha Summit in 2020 regarding “Hiring Veterans”. Sharon has advocated for the emotional support of Veterans suffering from combat related PTSD and MST in her TedXOmaha Ted Talk in October 2017. She is a founding member of Nebraska Warrior Writers, a healing writing group for Veterans in Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska and her work has been read from stage nationally. In October 3, 2020 Sharon was honored to organize the Omaha event for the Nationwide Rally for MST Survivors held in support of the Vanessa Guillen Act. The successful event was attended by survivors, supporters, local groups such as the WCA, Survivors Rising and several others. Sharon is a member of the Omaha VA’s Veterans Advisory Group and has volunteered on numerous local boards throughout the years. She was awarded two Meritorious Masts in the USMC, Outstanding Veteran Advocate in 2014 (Civic Nebraska), and was honored as a Tribute to Women Honoree in 2018 in Omaha, Nebraska.
Queta Rodriguez is a retired U.S. Marine Corps Captain. She holds a B.A. in Government & Politics from University of Maryland, College Park. Following her retirement, Queta continued to serve in a new way, supporting Veterans as the Bexar County Veterans Service Officer, where she oversaw the county’s Veterans Service programs and served as an advocate for military and vVeteran families in the areas of education, employment, housing, and more. Queta joined FourBlock in December 2018, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to supporting returning service members in their transition from military service to meaningful civilian careers. Starting out as the Texas Program Manager, she taught, managed, and mentored Veterans and transitioning service members in San Antonio throughout a comprehensive semester-long Career Readiness Program designed to help Veterans build professional relationships, discover new industries, and excel in meaningful careers after military service. Over the following two years, Queta expanded FourBlock’s Career Readiness Program to include serving Veterans and transitioning service members not only in San Antonio but also in Austin, Denver, Houston, and a regional virtual cohort that reaches Veterans across the entire Central time zone. She now leads the South-Central region of the United States as Regional Director, responsible for the planning, managing, execution and continued growth of the program. Since she joined FourBlock in December 2018, Queta has helped more than 200 Veterans and active-duty service members create a plan for their successful career transition. She has grown the FourBlock program in the South-Central region by 88 percent. She is co-chair of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Community Veterans Engagement Board in San Antonio and volunteers with numerous Veterans and community organizations. In July 2020, Queta was announced as one of five highly qualified civilian experts to lead the independent review of the command climate and culture at Fort Hood. The panel reviewed historical data and conducted 647 individual interviews with military members, civilians, and members of the local community - 503 of whom were women. In December 2020, she and her fellow Committee members testified in front of the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel, where they made 70 recommendations to change the command climate and culture at Fort Hood.
VR Small is a Navy Veteran. VR Small is the founder and CEO of the Veteran Women’s Enterprise Center (VWEC), a national initiative launched in Dallas, Texas. VR designed the VWEC to help entrepreneur women associated with the military access the resources they need to succeed. The VWEC has a coworking incubator that provides a maximum of 16 veteran women entrepreneurs cost-effective modern coworking spaces until they can afford market value office facilities. The VWEC hosts a conference center, café lounge and engagement room dedicated to mentoring. VR has developed partnerships with people, organizations, and corporations to help entrepreneur women associated with the military build the social, and financial capital needed to effectively grow and expand their businesses.
Wimmer, Virginia A.
Virginia Annette Wimmer is an Air Force Veteran and served her country for more than 25 years. Immediately after retirement, Virginia joined the Solano County Veterans Service Office as a Veterans Service Representative in Fairfield, CA. Her skills and experience allowed her to excel and she was appointed as the Veteran Service Officer (VSO) for San Joaquin County, CA in 2015. As a County VSO, she has played an essential role in prioritizing homeless Veterans in San Joaquin County by partnering with Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) grantees, organizations providing temporary supportive housing through Grant Per Diem (GPD), and the VA Palo Alto Healthcare System to connect Veterans to subsidized housing through the Housing and Urban Development VA Supportive Housing (HUDVASH) program. While she has been in the role of VSO, the San Joaquin County Continuum of Care has approved plans to support two affordable housing developments: Liberty Square in Stockton and Victory Gardens in French Camp. Her leadership on this issue has allowed the county to have a more coordinated effort for aiding Veterans in need of housing. Virginia was instrumental in the establishment of the San Joaquin County Veteran’s Treatment Court (VTC) Program. Through the county’s collaborative court system Virginia has been able to connect justice-involved Veterans to treatment through the VA Healthcare System, and service-connected compensation through the Veterans Benefit Administration. She has further advocated for a focus on the mental health of Veterans in crisis by providing Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) to service providers throughout the county. She volunteers her time as a mentor to other Veteran leaders in the community. Under her leadership, the San Joaquin County Veteran’s Advisory Commission was formed in 2018 and they have since worked to establish a chapter of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation in Stockton, CA. She holds a master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Southern California.