Women Veterans Conference Focuses on Issues
One woman suffered a ruptured spleen from a military doctor. Another woman awaited delayed treatment for a fractured pelvis, another for depression. Several women reported sexual harassment.
These were among the concerns aired at the Women Veterans Conference on Saturday at Wicker Park Social Center. The first of its kind in Northwest Indiana, the conference enabled female veterans to share their concerns with peers.
“We are important. We have all served. Some of us are still serving,” Lt. Col. (ret.) Arthurine Jones of National Women Veterans United said. “Because we are women, we have unique concerns.”
The NWVU and Disabled American Veterans Chapter 17 of Hammond co-sponsored the conference. Rochelle Crump, founder and president of NWVU, said the intent of the conference was to connect veterans with each other and to ensure that veterans’ concerns were being addressed to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and other groups.
“We want these women to know they are appreciated, they are heroes,” Crump said. “These women served their country, too. People don’t see women as veterans as they do with men.”
Crump served 1971-73 in the Army during the Vietnam era.
The conference allowed participants, many from Chicago, to air their particular concerns. These included:
• lack of access to mammograms, prenatal and dental care
• billing procedures
• military sexual trauma
• accessibility to patient advocates
• quality of medical care
• dealing with anxiety
• deferment of health issues due to military promotions
As conference facilitator, Jones said these concerns will be addressed to the VA. In the meantime, Crump noted, because of their low numbers, women have to stick together, “or nothing with change.”
According to the VA, women constitute only 9.41% of U.S. military veterans. Of the nearly 20 million veterans as of 2017, 1.88 million are women.
In Indiana, women represent 31,169 of the 409,836 total Hoosier veterans. Of the 628,254 Illinois veterans, 49,534 are women.
Roz Smoot, of Chicago, who served in the Army 1979-90, spent six years in Germany. Smoot suffered post-traumatic stress disorder but added, “I love being a veteran. Being a veteran helped me learn what I wanted to become.”
Smoot owns a trucking company and continues to drive.
Frances Atwood, of Crown Point, repaired radios while serving in the Marines 1980-84. Now on disability, this substitute teacher asserted, “I am proud of my military service.”
Several women complained about the VA. Bob Carnagey, senior vice commander with the DAV Hammond unit, said the VA is experiencing a “change of brain” regarding female veterans, with changes coming.
For Gary native Darlene Reynolds, who served in the Army 1978-80, “my military service was very beautiful, so much so that my daughter recently retired after 22 years in the Air Force.”
The senior member of the conference, Miljan Akins, 90, of Chicago, served in the Air Force during the Korean War era, 1951-53. For her, the military was “all right. I never had any serious problems.”
Jeannie Adams, 75, of Chicago, served during the Vietnam era and later, as a reservist, in Operation Desert Storm and the Panama conflict. The former medic said she had a “very positive overall experience” in the Air Force.
Adams knows other women experienced issues while serving, but it “was a woman’s word against a man’s word, and women were considered inferior. To keep the peace, you kept your mouth shut.”
Today Adams stands with those women airing concerns.
“We have to say something,” Adams said. “Otherwise, nothing changes.”