In an effort to reach more women, the VA in Oceanside held an event Friday to exhibit the services they provide for the fastest growing group of veterans.
There are 2 million female veterans nationwide, and 7,000 thousand women served through the San Diego Veterans Administration. Over the last decade, the needs of those women has evolved.
“I remember going to the VA in the 90s, and they didn't have anybody to work with me,” said Marine veteran Patricia St. John.
The VA Medical Center now has a women’s clinic and services like mammograms, gynecology and other medical services on site.
Female veterans like St. John, who works for Interfaith Community Services, are helping others in need, such as homeless veterans, through a VA grant.
“We make sure that people in housing are getting the help with employment and housing and their needs are met at the VA,” said St. John.
Nicole Heffel, a Navy veteran, was honored at the Oceanside event Friday with a VA Women Veteran Resiliency Award for community service. She is working with women veteran in crisis, giving women veterans in prison what they need to turn their lives around.
She said there is a common thread for these women, “Some sort of post-traumatic stress whether combat related or military sexual trauma.”
Linda Stanley, an Air Force veteran who now works at the VA as a psychiatric nurse, treats people who come into the emergency room in crisis. She received the top VA Women Veteran Resiliency Award.
Deployed to a war zone while serving, she said when people think about combat PTSD, they don’t often think about women.
“Many times people don't think of a woman veteran of having combat PTSD,” she said. “Trauma is trauma, whether that is military sexual trauma, vehicle accidents in training, people who responded to natural disasters such as the tsunami in Japan. The body sees trauma as trauma,” said Stanley.
She added that since 9/11, women have also been exposed to so much more, like mortars, gunshot rounds, wounds and death.
“Those women who are suffering through military sexual trauma, we need special care for that and it's available in the VA,” said Dr. Josie Quizon-Guatno, a retired Air Force Captain and current nurse at the VA.
But while services are available, nurses like Stanley said the VA needs more people to treat the growing number of veterans who need help.
The message they hoped to send is if you are a female veteran, don’t hesitate to reach out the VA to get the help you need. You earned it.