Contagious energy and enthusiasm filled the large 1st floor south room of the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in West Los Angeles on Friday, September 9. Women veterans from all the armed services were celebrating being together.
They had come to be part of the “2nd Annual Women Warrior Freedom Fest.” The Festival had live music, free hair cuts, and tables loaded with information about medical benefits, housing connections, educational opportunities and staff to answer questions and help. Congressman Ted Lieu and State Senator Ben Allen’s representatives were there with information on how to contact their offices for assistance in getting their assigned benefits. The Greater Los Angeles Veterans Administration, HCS Women Veteran Patient Advisory Council organized the event.
“Never forget both sexes and all people are equal in God’s sight,” were the words of the Chaplain who opened the Festival. She was followed by a Marine bugler who played Taps, an a cappella performance of the National Anthem by the singer Montie, and an emotionally charged Minute of Silence in honor of the fallen men and women who had died while on active duty. The oldest veteran was Santa Monican Nancy Cattell, a WWII veteran and a former Santa Monica College Trustee. The youngest were the veterans now attending Santa Monica College.
Most attendees came to have fun, help each other and to tell their stories, as well as share information and resources.
Housing. Blue Butterfly Village, housing for homeless women veterans is a project of Volunteers of America. They worked with Families Overcoming Under Stress (FOCUS ) to get the village up and running. FOCUS, started a UCLA/NPI had a three year grant which made it possible for the FOCUS staff to provide support for the Blue Butterfly Village. The Village is a success story which will be a model for other villages and FOCUS will go on to support other projects for women veterans. voa.org/housing_properties/blue-butterfly-village.
“According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, there are more than 4,456 homeless female veterans in the U.S., many of whom have children. They account for 8 percent of the nation’s 58,000 homeless vets.”
Healthcare for blind veterans. Talking watches and alarm clocks, calendars and thermostats, even a talking device to tell you the color of the clothes in your closet. These are provided free of charge to returning veterans who are blind due to combat related trauma and injury through VIST, a specialty clinic of the VA. In one on one work with rehab specialists Dunia Lara and Ted Zadourian blind veterans are taught to read using special equipment. The specialists work with patients in the clinic and make home visits. The goal is to make it possible for the veterans to lead independent lives.
Healthcare for women veterans. A brochure on the table reads, “VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System is Dedicated to Providing the Highest Quality of Care to Every Woman Veteran.” It might sound too good to be true. That is until you meet the Medical Director of the Women’s Health Clinic, Dr. Batuman.
“I stand up for what I believe. I take care of patients as whole people. I teach values,” said the dynamic Doctor. “We see 8 – 10,000 women veterans a year. Patients who left the VA are coming back because of the quality of care in our clinic.
“We are a comprehensive women’s clinic providing primary care, mammograms, gynecology, maternity care, mental health – anything a women might need. We provide one stop medical care. We make it as easy as we can for our veterans. We hold clinic on Saturdays.”
Art. 2nd Lieutenant Phyllis Miller, a Navy veteran, is now working as an artist. She was able to attend Design Center because of her veteran status.
Miller is working on a military project series where she brings veterans together and uses art as a way for the veterans to be able to talk about their combat experience. “It’s my way of helping and giving tribute to their service,” said Miller. meroegallery.com.
Beauty. John Rogers was one of several teachers and students from the Santa Monica College School of Cosmetology. They were giving free haircuts as part of the Woman Warriors Fest. The teachers and students also give free haircuts at local shelters and to homeless people who come to the School on Mondays.
Education. Santa Monica College had two tables at the event. Staff offered special help to Veterans and were there to explain the career and technical degree programs, the transfer to 4-year colleges and help with high to enroll at Santa Monica College.
Throughout the event, the women collected information and connected with service providers, networked with each other and enjoyed the music.
Women Warriors Fest organizer and veteran Aretta Gottke promises another festival next year.
The veterans at the Festival were impressive. The spirit in the room was high. They deserve our tribute and our support and the Festival.
*If you see a vet on the street that needs help you can contact: Veteran Angela Russell who now works for the VA in their Community Engagement Reintegration Services. An ‘outreach worker’ with special training in helping Veterans who are homeless and who need help receiving the benefits they are entitled to as veterans. Angela.Russell3@va.gov
Homeless Veteran’s Outreach Team members are on call 24/7 at 1 877 424 3838 / 1 877 4AID VET.