WOMEN VETERANS SUBMISSIONS
My name is Abeni C. Scott, you can call me Celeste. I’m writing on behalf of Camouflaged Sisters, a series of books written by Military women. The Camouflaged Sisters brand was created by Visionary Author, CW4 (Retired) Lila Holley.
All four books are Amazon best sellers and Award winning. The four books in the series are Camouflaged Sisters: Revealing Struggles of the Black Woman’s Military Experience, Camouflaged Sisters: Silent No More and Camouflaged Sisters: Behind the Rank Vol. 1 and 2. We are currently writing two more books, one on Leadership, involving senior military female leaders and Behind the Rank Vol. 3.
Lila Holley (Camouflaged Sisters Visionary) Lila Holley is a combat Veteran, a retired US Army Chief Warrant Officer Four, and the multiple award-winning, Amazon bestselling visionary author behind the Camouflaged Sisters book series. Lila partners with other courageous military women and women Veterans to share their stories of success in the military despite facing challenges along their journey. Lila is on a mission to empower military women and women Veterans to take back the narrative and ownership of their stories. She believes there is no one better to tell these stories than the women who lived them. Lila has created multiple media platforms for women to share their stories and celebrates military women and women Veterans through her online radio show, bi-annual online magazine, virtual and live events, as well as her multiple book projects. The Camouflaged Sisters growing online community is where military women connect with each other, access resources, and share their stories. Learn more at camouflagedsisters.org
SERVICE WOMEN'S ACTION NETWORK
SWAN’s renewed mission (developed through a pro bono strategic plan completed in 2017) is to support, connect and advocate for military women– past, present and future. Our work in 2018 has focused on three key areas: Unite, Support and Impact. Individually, these areas represent specific efforts and activities that deliver real and immediate value to our members, and collectively they are a demonstration of our full mission in action.
SWAN is the only national organization in the U.S. established to advance the rights and advocate for both active duty (including reserve and guard) and veteran women. We work hard to ensure women in the military get fair and equal treatment and care while in the military and when they leave military service and move into the veteran community. The founding of SWAN is rooted in the commonly shared experience of women veterans who experienced a complete lack of recognition and awareness by civilians and members of the military alike that women serve their country alongside their male peers.
Since they are frequently overlooked women are often reluctant to identify as veterans. This means that many women veterans do not seek Veterans Affairs (VA) services and benefits, which includes medical and mental health care. Since many services for veterans are administered through the VA, as the largest service provider to veterans, many women are not even aware of places to go to for help, assistance or guidance at any point after separating from the military. Additionally, this lack of awareness and recognition leads many women to feel especially isolated from their communities - both civilian and military - feeling unwelcome and misunderstood by both. This isolation and lack of community often leads to a range of negative impacts on their lives. A 2018 VA report that revealed that veteran women are 250% more likely to commit suicide than their civilian counterparts confirms this common experience.
This is where SWAN steps in: to create a community of service women, connect them to the services they need, and to advocate not only for their recognition, but for their unique needs and issues. SWAN is a dedicated champion for the needs of military women, and illuminates how needs and issues are often different for service women and women veterans depending on their status - enlisted or officer, race, sexual orientation and gender identity.
Our organizational goals are:
Goal 1: Advocate for the rights of service women and women veterans to promote their personal and professional growth.
Goal 2: Connect service women and women veterans with SWAN, peers and the broader community.
Goal 3: Deliver programs and access to resources to meet the needs of service women and women veterans.
Note: we use the term "military women" to refer to women who are currently serving AND to women veterans. We separate them terms only when it is important to distinguish between the two populations.
SWAN has a formidable track record that has directly led to numerous reforms in the military and at the VA on such issues as inadequate and discriminatory health care and disability ratings and services, reproductive rights, military sexual harassment and sexual assault, and equal service opportunities being opened to women who are serving. SWAN has achieved these successes despite our limited staff and limited financial resources. In 2018 SWAN made considerable progress toward meeting our goals.
Goal 1: In direct response to Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” cover feature in December 2017, SWAN published an Op-Ed noting the blatant absence of military women in the #MeToo movement, and the hashtag “#MeTooMilitary” was borne. In order to further drive this message and generate more public attention and media coverage, SWAN organized the #MeTooMilitary Stand Down demonstration at the Pentagon that galvanized partner organizations including -- Protect Our Defenders, Military Law Task Force of the National Lawyers Guild, Vietnam Veterans of America Women Veterans Committee and Common Defense to participate. With the groundswell of change building in the civilian world -- Hollywood, Congress, media and technology industries and more -- change in the military culture must be pushed now as well. The demonstration was intended to increase awareness of the ongoing epidemic of Military Sexual Assault and women from inside the Pentagon came out and joined our demonstration and some even spoke extemporaneously about their experiences of sexual harassment and assault in the military. The demonstration was widely covered by the media.
Goals 1 and 3:
Throughout 2018, SWAN continued to expand our mental health and wellness programs through research, advocacy, and programs. In 2018, we published our first report on mental wellness called The Mental Wellness Needs of Military Women: Community Driven Solutions that was based on six months of research that included a large N survey and 4 focus group discussions. In 2018, we hand delivered and briefed 32 Congressional offices on the recommendations contained in the report and we delivered the report to senior leaders at the VA and the DOD. We expanded our mental wellness program outreach through the efforts of a volunteer Wellness Coordinator who has increased the number of retreat programs that provide “women only” retreats and we have filled their programs with service women and women veterans from across the country. Although we have managed to get some existing programs to add “women only” retreats there still is not enough capacity to meet the needs and some programs refuse to run retreats for victims of military sexual trauma, our highest need area, stating that their expertise is in combat related trauma not sexual trauma.
Goal 1: In 2018, we conducted our first research study on the reproductive needs of service women and women veterans. The report has some startling findings with associated recommendations that will be published on Veterans Day, November 11th, 2018. The report will be delivered to law and policy makers in DOD, at the VA and on Capitol Hill. The policy recommendations contained in the report, if implemented, will improve the reproductive services provided to service women and women veterans.
Goal 1: SWAN continued its work with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to ensure the integration of women into ground combat units and occupations goes smoothly and fairly. To this end, we amended our lawsuit now called SWAN V. Mattis to eliminate the “Leader’s First Policy” which blocks the participation of women in ground combat occupations for most states’ National Guard units. The amended complaint also challenges the Marine Corps’ practice of segregating men and women during basic training because it leads to unequal training expectations and devalues women Marines in the male recruit’s view. This year the judge in our case agreed and has refused to allow the case to be dismissed moving us to the discovery phase of the lawsuit. SWAN leadership is preparing for depositions and oral arguments.
Goal 1: This year we also entered the fight to lift the re-imposed ban on transgender military service. This ban was originally rescinded in 2015 but was re-imposed in 2017. With the pro bono support of the law firm Steptoe and Johnson we have prepared an Amicus Brief in the case of Jane Doe 2 V. Trump.
Goal 2: SWAN has a recurring monthly segment on CBS’s Connecting Vets Radio show. Each month an hour of programming is reserved for SWAN to highlight our work and an amazing women veteran from across the women veteran community. Our monthly shows are archived and available on the program’s radio web site. SWAN also publishes a monthly newsletter that updates members on our activities and resources available to military women.
Goal 2: In 2018, SWAN researched and led the creation of the Military Women’s Coalition. SWAN identified over 150 small, mostly unfunded organizations across the country that were serving military women at the local and state levels. In April 2018, SWAN convened a group of 8 organizations to serve as an Advisory Group to a larger coalition. In September 2018, SWAN hosted the first national meeting of the Military Women’s Coalition in Atlanta, Georgia. More than 170 people from over 40 organizations participated in the inaugural meeting. The group agreed upon the following mission: The Military Women’s Coalition is a national group of formal and informal organizations who work collaboratively to serve and support US active duty, reserve, Guard, Veteran and retired service women by uniting and elevating their voices to influence policy and improve their well-being. Our Vision: Military women are fully integrated, equally respected, honored and supported members of the military and veteran communities and their contributions are recognized as essential to national defense.
Goal 3: In 2018, we launched SWAN’s gender-specific online resource portal, which our 2016 needs assessment survey indicated is a priority for service women. We continue to work with other military and veteran serving organizations to encourage gender-specific programming to better serve service women and women veterans.
Metrics: SWAN keeps metrics in several key areas to track and gauge the level of interest in military women’s activities and their needs. We track these metrics because we believe that the more requests we receive the more impact we are having. Media and speaking requests indicate the public’s level of trust in SWAN as a reliable source for credible information and in their level of interest in military women. We track membership and member engagement as an indicator of service women and women veteran’s interest in our work and their need for support. SWAN also tracks Hill, DOD and VA interactions because these interactions have led to law and policy reforms for service women and women veterans. For example, in 2018 our visits to lawmakers directly resulted in the inclusion of the provision for women specific body armor in the National Defense Authorization Act.
Media Engagement: SWAN issued 11 press releases in 2018: 4 responded to military sexual assault reports and activities occurring at DOD, 2 announced the launch of the Military Women’s Coalition, 1 condemned Defense Secretary Mattis’ remarks about women’s full integration into the military, 1 was an update to the status of our combat integration lawsuit and 1 announced our “friends of the court” legal brief support of transgender service members. SWAN had over 105 media interview requests or mentions from various national and international news and media. SWAN’s social media followers increased by 12% in 2018. SWAN staff and board members published 3 articles in 2018 in Time Magazine, the Washington Post and Task & Purpose.
Speaking Requests and Engagements: SWAN’s expertise is in high demand. Our staff is continuously asked to speak and present at conferences throughout the US. In 2018, we presented our research at 4 major conferences including the Veterans Affairs State Women Veterans Coordinators Conference, the County Veteran Service Coordinators Annual Training Conference, the Air Force Global Strike Command Women’s Leadership Conference, and The Military Women’s Coalition. We were also invited to join periodic round-table discussions with other veterans’ groups like Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s Veterans Round Table.
SWAN is an active member in 3 coalitions: The Military Coalition, The Military Women Reproductive Rights Coalition and we lead the Military Women’s Coalition.
SWAN responds to needs direct requests for assistance from military women. We connected over 90 service women and women veterans to services in the first 10 months of 2018.
SWAN continues its important legislative and legal work on sexual harassment, bias, military sexual trauma (MST), retaliation against those who report MST, and reproductive rights on behalf of servicewomen. We track all efforts on these legislative and advocacy fronts including meetings with elected officials, advocacy directly with the VA and the Department of Defense, and letters and statements written and sent to further our advocacy positions. With the assistance of the Yale Veterans Legal Services Clinic SWAN assessed current military sexual trauma and sexual harassment prevention programs instituted by the DoD and we provided the results of our research directly to the Department of Defense in meetings that officials attended at our office.
JANAIA NASH/ TRAVIS MANION FOUNDATION
Travis Manion Foundation (TMF) empowers veterans and families of fallen heroes to develop character in future generations. TMF was founded in 2007 following the death of 1stLt Travis Manion (USMC) who was killed in Iraq while saving his wounded teammates. Today, Travis' legacy lives on in the words he spoke before leaving for his final deployment, "If Not Me, Then Who..." Guided by this mantra, veterans and families of fallen heroes continue their service, develop strong relationships with their communities, and thrive in their post-military lives. As a result, communities prosper and the character of our nation’s heroes lives on in the next generation. TMF is uniting communities to strengthen America’s national character and veterans are leading the way.
Travis Manion Foundation (TMF) programs enable veterans to thrive by fulfilling three important components: Meaning, Engagement and Relationships.
Engagement refers to the ability to leverage personal strengths and passions in order to make an impact. Positive relationships are established with camaraderie and a close-knit network of support. Finally, Meaning develops when serving a purpose higher than oneself. Military life is designed to engage all three of these components; however, when service members leave active duty, and begin their civilian lives, they find one or all three of these lacking. TMF programs are designed to enhance these components to create a thriving individual as defined by a physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally healthy individual.
In the last few years, a unique set of challenges and opportunities have forced us to reflect on TMF’s role in forming our collective character: school shootings, natural disasters, political and cultural division, and a host of threats and tragedies that challenge our national identity. With each new challenge, we remember the five words that launched the TMF movement after Travis’ death in 2007: “If Not Me, Then Who…”
This past year, TMF brought communities together with nearly 100 community projects that addressed the greatest needs of our members. We now have more than 13,000 veterans and families of the fallen leading TMF’s 100,000 Spartan members and inspiring more than 40,000 youth to join our movement of character.
Janaia Nash serves as the Chief of Programs for the Travis Manion Foundation. Janaia graduated from the United States Military Academy and was commissioned as an Adjutant General Officer for the Army in 2003. During her six years of service she deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and also received numerous awards for her contributions to diversity programs, emergency relief efforts, and personnel programs. While serving she was the awarded the Distinguished Honor Graduate for her advanced school and earned her Master's Degree in Human Resource Management from Webster University.
At the conclusion of her military service, Janaia transitioned into the civilian sector and worked as a manger in the federal government and retail before pursing her passion of serving others in the non-profit space. Janaia joined the Mission Continues, a veteran-serving organization, as the Fellowship Program Director where she was responsible for all aspects of the program including oversight of all program development and operations, staff, and coordination of internal and external organizational efforts. Following the position she accepted a position as the Vice President, Veterans and Military Programs for Points of Lights (POL). Janaia developed the military strategy for the organization as well as embedded National Service (AmeriCorps) in the military and veteran community as a way for service members, veterans and their families to leverage volunteering as a method to integrate successfully within their local communities In her current role at TMF, she oversees the nationwide strategy, development, expansion, and implementation of TMF's National Programs.
THE MISSION CONTINUES
The Mission Continues empowers veterans who are adjusting to life at home to find purpose through community impact. Our operations in cities nationwide deploy veteran volunteers alongside non-profit partners and community leaders to solve some of the most challenging issues facing our communities: improving community education resources, eliminating food deserts, sustaining parks and greenspace and more. Women make up roughly 16% of the post-9/11 veteran population - the highest percentage in American history. Despite the Combat Exclusion Policy in place until early 2013, these women veterans are significantly more likely to have experienced combat compared with women who served in prior eras. They are also younger and more diverse than their male peers. These women veterans are also participating in The Mission Continues programs at high rates - 34% of Mission Continues Fellows were women veterans, and 31% of service platoon members are women veterans. In an effort to understand the reasons for this high rate of participation, The Mission Continues commissioned a study of female veterans in our programs. The results shed light on a generation of women who are proud of their service yet encountered challenges and obstacles unique of their male peers. Armed with this research, in 2016, The Mission Continues piloted the Women Veterans Leadership Summit (WVLS) and will hold our fourth event in March 2019. The Women Veterans Leadership Summit is part of an ongoing national conversation for women veterans, empowering and equipping these women to lead a movement that inspires community change efforts and advancement towards equality. Each year, WVLS brings together the voices and insights of a diverse range of female luminaries from the worlds of business and nonprofits, entertainment and politics. Our speakers and presenters represent a wide range of backgrounds and experience, are both veterans and non-veterans, and are all committed to growing this network of women leaders. Each year, the selected women have a range of personal and professional experiences, but all of them are committed to better understanding the challenges that women face when they leave the military and breaking down the barriers that hold them back. The summit provides them with a vast network of women with shared experiences and empowers our attendees to continue their service to each other and to their communities back home.
Through participation in the Women Veterans Leadership Summit, the women veteran participants feel a deeper sense of connection - to other women veterans, to their own communities, and to their professional networks. They also develop and grow both professionally and personally in ways that help them successfully reintegrate to life after the military. Areas of growth include skill competency (job readiness), leadership, sense of purpose, self-confidence, communication and well-being. Additionally, the women veterans are able to impact a community that needs their help and while reaping personal benefits from their engagement, including better understanding of non-veteran populations and being inspired to continue their service at home. After attending WVLS, 97% of program attendees felt they were more connected with other veterans, a statistically significant increase of 9.8% from the pre-event survey. 95% of participants reported that the summit gave them the skills to expand their own network. After attending WVLS, 92% of program attendees reported feeling a greater sense of fulfillment. 93% of participants reported that the summit gave them the skills to be a leader in their community. 90% of participants reported that the summit taught them to focus on their own self care and regulation.