Recognizing the unique health care needs of women veterans is what brought paralyzed Army veteran Tamara Lawter to nearly 20 years of service to Paralyzed Veterans of America.
Tamara Lawter, National Vice President of Paralyzed Veterans of America
Now, having been elected in August 2013 as the second woman in Paralyzed Veterans’ history to the Executive Council, Tamara continues her legacy of pushing for adequate women’s health care within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health system as well as reforming a claims process that often disfavors claims submitted by women veterans.
It’s Tamara’s contributions and those of all female veterans that are recognized and celebrated during Women’s History Month in March. With more women serving in harm’s way in the post-9/11 era than in previous conflicts, the need for effective medical care and opportunities to achieve quality of life for women veterans is all the more urgent.
“It’s now 2014, and I really can’t believe that after being injured for 20 years that there is not more adequate health care for women by the VA,” Tamara says.
Tamara was paralyzed in a car accident in 1994 while returning to her home station of Ft. Stewart, GA, after completing a computer simulated training exercise at Ft. Bragg, N.C. A native of Kearney, NE, Tamara began serving the Great Plains chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America shortly after recovering from her injury, moving from a board member to national director to her current role as a national vice president.
Her new role on the executive council includes oversight of women’s health issues at the VA, including ensuring female veterans have a say in choosing a provider for medical and preventive services that the VA contracts out, urging adequate fertility and prenatal care and ensuring that women veterans who are being treated for diseases like breast cancer do not have to travel lengthy distances for their treatment and care.
“I’m really hoping that being a female on the executive council will help bring a different perspective on certain things affecting women that need to be taken care of,” Tamara says. “I want to make sure that I focus on women’s issues and highlight what women veterans are really thinking about.”
It’s those and other issues that have been the focus of Paralyzed Veterans of America’s continued mission to support women veterans. Aside from it’s involvement in the VA’s National Training Summit on Women Veterans Issues, Paralyzed Veterans advocates for legally authorizing the VA to include reproductive assistance as a standard VA medical service to veterans and continues to fund grants involving women’s health.
“Paralyzed Veterans of America recognizes the importance of focusing on the needs of women veterans, particularly those who have suffered severe injury,” said Sherman Gillums, Jr., associate executive director of benefits for Paralyzed Veterans of America. “Many will face issues related to childbearing, psychosocial and family pressures, accessing care in a system traditionally established for men, and other challenges that are unique to women.”
With women now the fastest growing subgroup of U.S. veterans, and the number of women veterans expected to increase significantly over the next decade, Paralyzed Veterans of America believes more action is needed to provide effective care and services to female veterans, including overhauling a VA claims adjudication process that often disfavors claims submitted by women.
“Their gender did not matter when they were assigned to participate in convoy operations in Iraq or sit behind a machine gun on a guard post in Afghanistan,” Gillums said. “It’s our job to ensure their gender doesn’t determine the quality and effectiveness of the support they receive when they come home.”
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Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.