Women Vets (Part 1)

with Kayla Williams, Director of the VA Center for Women Veterans

National National

Women comprise about 10 percent of the veteran population today, and are projected to make up about 16.3 percent by 2043. And while this population continues to grow rapidly, so does the need for proper health care and housing services. Kayla Williams, Director of the VA Center for Women Veterans discusses some of the challenges women veterans face today and how her organization is working to resolve them. This discussion continues in part 2 of Women Vets.

Interview recorded Oct 11, 2017.  Hosted by Robert Traynham.

Read a partial transcript of this interview below:

Robert T: Since 2000, the number of female veterans receiving healthcare from the Veterans Health Administration has more than doubled. With half of all women veterans projected to use VA benefits by 2019, the VA services and approach are evolving.

Hello everyone and welcome to Comcast Newsmakers, I’m Robert Traynham. My guest is Kayla Williams. She is director of the VA center for womens veterans. Kayla, welcome to the program.

Kayla W: Thank you so much for having me, Robert.

Robert T: That’s an interesting fact that I just mentioned a few moments ago. Tell me a little bit more about that.

Kayla W: So there are about two million women [00:00:30] veterans today and a lot of people don’t necessarily know that women have been serving in our military since the Revolutionary War. However, we haven’t necessarily been recognized as veterans. I know when I came home from Iraq back in 2004, groups of us would go out to get a beer, celebrate coming home alive from a combat zone, and somebody would say, “Hey somebody get those guys a round.” And would take it really literally, and buy the guys a round and assume that the women who were present were not veterans themselves. And so changing [00:01:00] that perception to help folks understand that women are veterans that we are serving, in a really vastly increasing number of roles as well, is one of the important parts of my position.

Robert T: You know, Kayla, thank you for mentioning that because I think there is a stereotype out there, or at least there was, that women perhaps maybe served in a nursing role, or a caregiver role, wearing a uniform but in a different role. But I think it’s important to raise the awareness that women have and do continue to serve our country [00:01:30] in a various wider spectrum of job duties, so thank you for mentioning that.

Walk me through specifically some of the unit challenges, if any, that women veterans have, particularly in the VA system?

Kayla W: So because VA was established back when women were limited by law to only two percent of the military, the system as a whole really was established primarily to serve men. And as the percent of women in the military started to climb, it’s now roughly 15 percent of the total force-

Robert T: Is it really 15 percent?

Kayla W: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So we’re projected, [00:02:00] we’re about 10 percent of the veteran population today, we’ll be about 15 percent of the veteran population by 2035. So VA has been working very hard to ensure that it can care properly for women veterans, dramatically increasing the providers who have the skills necessary to serve women veterans, making sure that facilities are well equipped to be able to serve them. Some of that effort has paid off incredibly well. Today women who come to VA for their healthcare are more [00:02:30] likely to get breast cancer screenings and cervical cancer screenings than women using any other sector of healthcare in America.

Robert T: It sounds like the front of the house, for lack of a better term, is really evolving, if you will. What about the back of the house? What about the staff? What about the culture of the VA? Has that evolved as well?

Kayla W: We are working hard on culture change. I can tell you, as a patient, there are times when I come to VA to get my care and the parking lot attendant tries to direct me towards employee parking. I’d say, “No, no, no, I’m here as a patient.” And every now and then, somebody will say, “Oh are you [00:03:00] here with your husband?” So we’re working really hard to correct that and help make sure that everyone knows that women are veterans themselves. Fact, one of the projects that I worked on this year that I was really excited about, we did in partnership with an organization called The Veteran Artist Program. We worked with them to get an exhibit of art by 10 women veterans in 10 VA medical centers nationwide throughout march, which is women’s history month. That exhibit has gone on to a couple dozen other VA medical centers nationwide. [00:03:30] It’s been featured in Starbucks locations and beyond. So I’m really excited at the success of this innovative exhibit, this innovative partnership in raising awareness of women as veterans, our service, sacrifice, diversity, strength, and resilience.