Earlier this week, my colleagues and I organized an event honoring women veterans at CCSU. Our headliner was VA Commissioner Linda Spoonster Schwartz, who started her career during the Vietnam war. At that time, the military only permitted 2% of active duty personnel to be female. So, Schwartz began her career as a contract nurse with no official military appointment. She had to ask her CO for permission to marry, and was honorably discharged when she became pregnant with her daughter. When Schwartz tried to join the Air Force reserves, she was told her pregnancy was a “disability” — but fortunately she was able to persuade the reserves to take her anyway. A few years later, the Schwartz was invited to debate Phyllis Schlafly about the issue of women in combat. This was at the height of Stop ERA in the early 1980s, and the big bugaboo was the possibility that women would get drafted. Schlafly asked Schwartz how she would feel if her daughter were drafted. Schwartz said that she would be proud to have her daughter serve if it came to that.
Dr. Sally Haskell from the women’s healthcare service at the Connecticut VA Hospital talked about how it wasn’t until the early 1990s that VA hospitals began to open women’s health centers to address the needs of female veterans. Even today, female veterans find that the VA is still designed primarily for men and are reluctant to go there. Helen Hart-Gai, APRN, talked about her work counseling veterans with PSTD, many of whom have been sexually assaulted. She said that female veterans report a higher rate of sexual assault than the general population, and that 54% of all women veterans say they have been sexually harassed. Hart-Gai also said that she counsels male sexual assault victims — not just from the current wars, but from WWII and the Korean and Vietnam Wars as well. These stories about sexual discrimination were confirmed by the two graduate students, Amy Otzel and Despina Mavroudis, who told their stories about serving in Iraq.
Attendance was sparse (disappointing — but understandable since it is the height of paper/exam frenzy) but the event was very informative and moving.
Our local paper, The New Britain Herald, ran stories on CCSU veterans and Veterans Day events on campus. I searched in vain for any reporting on our event, and, you guessed it, the coverage was all about teh menz. So, the Herald will be getting a letter from me and my colleagues in WGSS!