- Posted byon March 25, 2013 at 3:35 PM EDT
This week, President Obama completed his historic trip to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan. During the trip he reiterated the unbreakable bonds between the United States and Israel and America’s unwavering commitment to Israel’s security as well as the importance of security, peace and prosperity for all in the region.
President Obama also touched upon the upcoming Passover holiday, the powerful symbols that it represents, and the inspiration it provides to him and to all people seeking a more just and peaceful future.
- Posted byon March 22, 2013 at 1:39 PM EDT
Ed. note: This is cross-posted forom The Grio.
Have you received a wake-up call yet?
For too many of us, it takes a sudden wake-up call — in the form of a major or minor health crisis — to make us realize that we’re not invincible. And tragically, for some, that call comes too late.
As black men, we often don’t talk about our health or seek help until something goes wrong. We may exercise and eat right. We may know how our habits today affect how we feel. But what about tomorrow? Are we making the right choices to stay healthy as we grow older? Most importantly, are we having the right conversations about health and well-being with our sons and our fathers, with our brothers, our colleagues, our neighbors, and our friends?
According to the Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, black men are 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease and 60 percent more likely to die from a stroke than white men. And unfortunately, the list goes on — black men still suffer from higher rates of disease and chronic illness such as prostate cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
Unless we act now, these disparities will continue to affect generations to come. Their existence should be a wake-up call for all black men. It’s time to invest not only in our own health, but in the health of our communities.
That starts by putting ourselves in the driver’s seat when it comes to our own care. The health care law signed by President Obama in 2010 is removing many of the obstacles to health care we’ve faced in the past. It provides access to preventive services – like screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes – at no cost to us.
- Posted byon March 21, 2013 at 6:55 PM EDT
It is our honor to celebrate the many accomplishments of our women veterans as our Champions of Change. At this time in our Nation's history there are more women serving in our Armed Forces than ever before. Since the creation of the Army Nurse Corps in 1901 women have been faithfully serving in our Armed Forces as nurses, mechanics, pilots, ship captains, unit commanders and more. In these jobs women have found themselves on the front-lines, but by the Administration's decision to lift the ban on combat positions to women gives them a chance to serve in all military roles. The opportunities in and out of military service continue to expand for women. For many of them their selfless service does not end when they take off the uniform for the last time, instead they continue to serve not only their communities, but also the very people they stood side-by-side with.
Marsha Four is a shining example one of these women. She served in the Army as a nurse during the Vietnam War. After leaving the service she was determined to help her fellow veterans and founded a 95-bed transitional home for homeless veterans. She also founded Mary E. Walker House, transitional residence program for homeless women veterans.
Marsha's story is just one of the many you will get to hear today from women who have dedicated their lives to the service of others. We are thrilled to be able to honor 14 incredible women in our Champions of Change event. Following their military service, these women have integrated back into the communities and become leaders in their schools, business, and local governments.
We couldn't possibly capture all the amazing contributions our women veterans are making across the nation. But we remain dedicated to the commitment we have made to all veterans. The Administration continues to demonstrate this promise by signing the Veteran Skills to Jobs Act, VOW to Hire Heroes Act, and an Executive Order to strengthen suicide prevention and veteran mental health care services. Joining Forces, led by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, continue to enlist community and local support by securing veteran hiring commitments from corporations around the country, establishing educational commitments from state and national nursing organizations and nursing schools, and campaigning for state credentialing and licensing legislation to assist veterans in translating their hard earned skill sets to the civilian sector.
It is the combined dedication of the women we honor as Champions of Change, our local communities, corporations nationwide, the Administration, and many more that secure our Nation's commitment to those who serve. We were excited about the day's events, and excited to meet some of these amazing women.
Champions for Change: Women Veterans
- Sharie Derrickson, Nashville TN. A Navy veteran and Vice President of New Wind, LLC who sought out energy start-up companies to join.
- Priscilla Mondt, Fayetteville AR. An Army & Desert Storm veteran with Bronze Star, as a VA Chaplain she runs a scholarship program for other chaplains.
- Glenna Tinney, Arlington VA. A retired Navy Captain who has managed military domestic violence and sexual assault programs as a former Dep. Director of the Defense Task Force on Domestic Violence and current Program Coordinator for the Battered Women’s Justice Project.
- Stacy Pearsall, Charleston SC. An Army veteran with three tours in Iraq which led to Bronze Star two time winner of NPPA Military Photographer of the Year. She owns Charleston Center for Photography and donates art to the Charleston VAMC.
- Ginger Miller, Accokeek MD. A Coast Guard veteran and founder of Women Veterans Interactive (formerly John 14:2), which has a Guidstar.org seal of approval. She is formerly homeless and started these organizations to assist other women veterans with their point of need.
- Natasha Young, Boston MA. A Marine veteran, Gunny Sgt, who deployed to Iraq twice and lost 6 marines during her deployments. She was selected as a Mission Continues fellow and was then hired as an Outreach Coordinator.
- Wilma Vaught, Arlington VA. Founder of Women In Military Service For America Memorial Foundation (WIMSA). Brigadier General Wilma L. Vaught, USAF, Retired, is President of the Board of Directors of the Women In Military Service For America Memorial Foundation, Inc. Her last military assignment was as Commander of the US Military Entrance Processing Command, North Chicago, IL, where she served from June 1982, until her retirement in August 1985. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Women’s History Museum and serves on the Virginia War Memorial Foundation Board of Trustees. Following retirement, she worked as a consultant with the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization as well as with industry. She speaks around the US on leadership and management and is a frequent guest on radio and television programs.
- Marsha Four, Springfield PA. An Army veteran, Vietnam nurse and founder of a 95-bed transitional housing residence (LZ II) for homeless Veterans recovering from substance abuse. She is also the founder of the Mary E. Walker House, transitional residence program for homeless women Veterans located on the grounds of Coatesville VA Medical Center.
- Marylyn Harris, Houston TX. An Army veteran and nurse who created Women Veterans Business Center to educate and empower women Veterans and military families to start and grow their own businesses.
- Becky Kanis, Los Angeles CA. An Army veteran and director of the 100,000 Homes Campaign, a national movement of over 185 communities working to find permanent homes for chronic and medically vulnerable homeless Americas.
- Kayla Williams, Ashburn VA. An Army & Operation Iraqi Freedom Veteran who advocates on Veterans policy issues, especially those that promote gender equality in the military and equal access to benefits and services for women Veterans. Served on the Advisory Committee on Women Veterans. Actively participates on panel, radio, and television discussion on women’s combat experiences, to help stakeholders, policy makers, and the public gain an understanding of how combat can impact the lives of the women who experience it.
- Michelle Racicot, Albuquerque NM. An Army Operation Enduring Freedom & Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, nurse practitioner. She is on the advisory board of American Women Veterans, and a community advocate (fundraiser/educator/volunteer) on homelessness.
- Dawn Halfaker, Arlington VA. An Army Operation Enduring Freedom & Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran and founder and CEO of Halfaker and Associates. President of the Board of Directors for Wounded Warrior Project.
- Tia Christopher, Davis CA. A Navy Veteran who currently works for the Farmer-Veteran Coalition as the Director of FVC’s Fellowship Fund. Ms. Christopher speaks nationally on issues facing women veterans, has testified before state and national legislature, and was a community instructor for the National Center for PTSD, Menlo Park. Christopher serves as an advisory board member for The Pathway Home: California Transition Center for Care of Combat Veterans.
Rosye Cloud is the Director of Policy for Veterans, Wounded Warriors, and Military Families.
- Posted byon March 21, 2013 at 6:54 PM EDT
Stacy Pearsall is being honored as a Champion of Change for her efforts as a woman veteran.
As a combat photographer, I traveled to over 42 countries documenting military training exercises and real-world operations. I witnessed and documented the best and worst in humanity. Over the course of my time spent in the warzone, the implements of war injured me as well as the unseen wounds combat vets often struggle with. In an effort to maintain my tough-guy persona, I hid my physical and emotional pain from those around me. As a woman, I’d worked hard to earn the respect of my peers and I didn’t want to give them any reason to think I wasn’t capable of completing the mission. However, one final injury I sustained during an ambush in Iraq made hiding that pain impossible. My physical wounds ultimately ended my active duty military career.
- Posted byon March 21, 2013 at 4:27 PM EDT
Marylyn Harris is being honored as a Champion of Change for her efforts as a woman veteran.
For over ten years, I never told my story. I rarely mentioned the fact that I was in the military or that I was a combat veteran. Like many women Veterans, I kept this information tightly guarded and believed that the memories of my military service were safely in the past, locked away in my mental vault.
Almost two years ago, I was asked to share my story for a National VA Campaign called “Make the Connection.” I was told that my story of resilience, healing, and transformation could serve to inspire other Veterans healing from military-related traumas such as post-traumatic stress disorder, military sexual trauma and physical illnesses. I was asked to share some of the resources I utilized to heal. I highlighted the role of the Vet Center in my healing and the role of Entrepreneurship in my personal transformation.
In 2009, I had a burning desire to help Veterans and Military Families. I did not want another Veteran denied optimal quality of life because they had “hidden wounds of war.” I sought out to locate other like-minded individuals and organizations that understood that some Veterans have challenges working in traditional employment settings after being exposed to war. I joined numerous Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) and actively worked within them to raise the level of awareness about disturbing trends I identified in women veterans like me. This population has many unmet needs, such as high unemployment, growing homelessness, unprecedented suicide rates, high divorce rates, child custody issues, dishonorable military discharges and chronic hopelessness. The Center for Women Veterans reported in 2010 that there are over 1.8 million Women Veterans in the United States. California, Texas, and Florida have the largest populations of Women Veterans and consequently, some of the biggest unmet needs.
Since I live in Houston, a city with over 30,000 women veterans, I decided to pick one variable that I could impact positively and work hard to fix it. I formed a team and began to host free networking events for veterans, military family members, and Veteran Service Providers. I inquired about the immediate needs of this population. It was very obvious to me that male veterans are able to socialize with each other and get their needs met. Male Veterans continue the camaraderie they get used to in the military. However, only a small percentage of women veterans are involved in veterans’ organizations, few women veterans continue to communicate with other women veterans after discharge, and women veterans rarely self-identify as a Veteran. Even fewer pursue business ventures.
I decided to be a “change agent” and committed to educating and empowering Women Veterans to start and grow businesses. After doing a year of “market research,” it was glaringly obvious to me that a huge unmet need existed in Houston and throughout the country to mobilize this “economic sleeping giant” of Women Veterans.
Next, I sought out programs that educate and support Veterans to start businesses. These were scarce at the time. In 2010, I located and attended the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV) at Florida State University (FSU). EBV changed my life! EBV is a collaboration between the U.S. Small Business Administration and Syracuse University's Institute for Veterans and Military Families. In my EBV Class, there were twenty-one Veteran Entrepreneurs in the Program. Twenty male veterans and me.
After graduating from EBV, I had a “community of support” and a “supplier network” in the other EBV graduates, faculty, and supporters from around the country. After so many years, I finally felt supported! I was again connected with the Military Community, a source of strength. Five months after graduating from EBV, with my children committed to help, we self-funded and launched the country's first Women Veterans Business Center in a two-day Grand Opening Event. Day One focused on building alliances with Community Partners (SBA, SBDC, SCORE, local politicians, Veteran, State and Federal and private entities). On Day Two, we hosted our first Women Veterans Business Bootcamp at Houston City Hall in the Mayors Boardroom.
The Inaugural Event was a huge success and we currently host quarterly Women Veterans Business Bootcamps focusing on Financing Your Business and Business Resources and Opportunities. In 2011, we held our first Anniversary Celebration where we hosted an Entrepreneurial Challenge for Military Youth, and awarded a Woman Veteran Business of the Year Award and a Military Friendly Company of the Year Award. The response to our Programs has been huge.
As a result of my personal Entrepreneurial transformation and Community Partnerships, I now travel nationally with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families’ program Veteran-Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship Conference (V-WISE) as the National V-WISE Ambassador! I exhibit and give presentations at local and regional events, and also was able to present at the National Veterans Small Business Conference. I have written a Resource Guide Series for Texas Veterans called, 25 FREE Resources Every Texas Veteran Needs to Know. I also received a National Appointment and serve on the federally chartered Advisory Committee on Veterans Business Affairs (Public Law 106-50). I believe I am “passionately purposed” to do this work.
Last year, the Women Veterans Business Center partnered with the Kaufman Foundation and trained and launched 26 new Houston Veteran Owned Businesses utilizing the Kauffman “FastTrac New Venture” Program. In late March, the Women Veterans Business Center will achieve another milestone. Houston is a city without a military base. No source exists to communicate information to the thriving Houston Military Community. The Center will begin hosting free monthly Veteran Owned Business Information Sessions on the last Tuesday morning of every month. Now active Service Members, Veterans, and Military Families in Houston will have a central place to get accurate information and referrals on starting a Veteran Owned Business.
I am honored to continue my “Service to America” by educating and empowering Women Veteran Owned Businesses to start, grow, heal, and improve the quality of their lives and communities across the US...that's what I do.
Thank you to the White House for this honor.
Marylyn Harris founded the nation’s first and only Women Veterans Business Center (WVBC) in Houston, Texas.
- Posted byon March 21, 2013 at 3:44 PM EDT
Ginger Miller is being honored as a Champion of Change for her efforts as a woman veteran.
In the early 90's after a medical discharge from the Navy, I became homeless, along with my husband who is a disabled veteran and our young son. The sad part is, I didn’t know I was homeless; I thought I was simply surviving. To make ends meet, I worked three jobs while going to school full time. This was a time in my life that I isolated myself from my peers. I was ashamed to ask for help because, honestly, I did not know help was available, and the sense of pride I felt while in the military was diminished.
After suffering in silence for more than a decade due to my husband's untreated Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, I finally spoke up by creating John 14:2, Inc, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting homeless and at risk veterans. My thoughts were that, if it happened to me, there have to be thousands more just like me who are suffering in silence, homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
Two years after the inception of John 14:2, I felt like there was something missing. I got up at three o'clock one morning and looked in the mirror. The person I saw was Ginger Miller, Woman Veteran; Ginger Miller, Former Homeless Veteran; Ginger Miller, Disabled Veteran. Then a light went on. It became crystal clear to me that I needed to do something specifically for women veterans, and I did just that.
As a woman veteran, I recognize the call to sisterhood, service, and sacrifice and this is why I started Women Veterans Interactive (WVI), which meets Women Veterans at their points of need. WVI is an organization for women veterans by women veterans, willing to roll our sleeves up to assist our sister veterans, ensuring that we never leave one behind. If a women veteran is homeless, in need of a mentor or support services, or looking for a great way to get involved in community outreach, we can meet those needs. We support women veterans through Advocacy, Empowerment, Interaction, Outreach, and Unification (AEIOU), with Outreach being my biggest priority for the organization.
Women Veterans Interactive (WVI) has programs and events designed specifically for woman veterans, including our Empowerment and Unification Lunch Cruises that give women the opportunity to have peer-to-peer interaction, food, and fun while enjoying nautical views. Most importantly, these cruises are a time for them to find out about the services and benefits available to them in an effort to break down the barriers that lead to homelessness. Our first year, we had over 600 woman veterans participate and held the event in both Maryland and New York. Other programs we hold include our Women Veterans Financial Literacy Program and our Women Veterans Breakfast Series. Topics for the breakfast series are include “The Great Transition and Benefits,” “Homelessness,” “Education and Employment,” and “Mentorship.” In addition WVI provides Turkey Baskets, Christmas Toys, winter coats, referrals for housing and employment, and rental assistance.
To see the look and feel the appreciation and relief flowing from a woman veteran’s heart when she comes to pick up food to feed her children for Thanksgiving, or to hear a woman veteran say, “Thank you Ms. Ginger, now me and my babies can have Thanksgiving Dinner,” is simply priceless.
Recently, there was a woman veteran who came to pick up food for Thanksgiving who looked familiar to me. I realized that this was one of the women who lived in a transitional facility that WVI went to visit. This particular woman had moved into permanent housing during the Thanksgiving Holiday, and we provided her with Thanksgiving Dinner for her and her son, whom she just regained custody of.
As a compassionate servant and leader, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to serve at various state and county levels on the Maryland Commission for Women, the Maryland Caregivers Support Coordinating Council, the Maryland Veterans Resilience Initiative, and as Chairwoman of the Prince George’s County Veterans Commission.
When people ask what drives me, I just simply say I remember feeling lonely, depressed, scared, and ashamed, and I remember being homeless and not having enough food to eat. I remember the transition, the struggle…I remember being these women.
Ginger Miller is the Founder and CEO of Women Veterans Interactive.
- Posted byon March 21, 2013 at 3:27 PM EDT
Wilma Vaught is being honored as a Champion of Change for her efforts as a woman veteran.
I’ve been associated with the Women In Military Service For America Memorial Foundation in some capacity since 1987: first as a board member and then, starting in March of 1987, as the president. We started with a dream: to build a Memorial in the Nation’s capital to honor the contributions of the 2.5 million women who have served in the nation’s defense. In 1997, we changed the face of monumental Washington with the dedication of the Women’s Memorial and its 33,000 square foot education center at the gateway to Arlington National Cemetery.
Today, the service of some 252,000 women, past and present, has been registered with the Memorial, preserving their stories of patriotism, valor, and service for future generations of Americans to see. We add more stories every day, and will continue this effort until every possible woman who has served takes her rightful place in history at the Women’s Memorial. Some 150,000 visitors annually have accessed these stories, paying tribute to a mother, daughter, sister, aunt or friend, and learned about the contributions of individual women. It is especially gratifying to know that we have created a place (to our knowledge, the only place) for women’s stories to be told and for people to learn about these extraordinary women who live and work amongst us.
The Memorial’s exhibit gallery is the place where we tell the collective story of women’s service. A variety of permanent and temporary exhibits chronicle the history, beginning with the American Revolution through to today’s women serving in Afghanistan and around the world. In early March, a new special exhibit was added celebrating 40 years of women in the Chaplains’ Corps, an amazing story of ministry to our military members and their families and spiritual guidance to the nation’s military leaders. I’m so proud of these efforts! Where else would the average citizen and our young people learn about these women and what they have accomplished? How would they know about our women prisoners of war, or female military astronauts and code breakers, and the courage of young African-American women soldiers during World War II? The list goes on and on, and extends well beyond the Memorial and Foundation. Our collaboration with journalists, authors, film makers, researchers, and artists has resulted in scores of books, documentaries, magazine and newspaper articles, and a variety of art exhibitions across the country. I think we have played a significant role in shaping and building the rich legacy of women’s service to the nation.
Our education efforts are another source of enormous pride. The Foundation is the home to a world-class collection of artifacts and memorabilia related to women’s service, likely the largest in the world. Our Oral History collection continues to grow and includes the oral histories of women from World War I to the present. Scholars, researchers, and journalists consistently use both of these collections, along with our small research library. We established a small publishing firm, Military Women’s Press, which publishes an annual calendar, posters and to date, three books, one of which is the only publication to focus on the service of women during the Korean War era. Our gift shop specializes in books by and about military women and memorabilia related to women’s service. We host a variety of seminars and activities that speak to women’s service, including our annual Memorial and Veterans Day programs. Students have used our educational materials across the nation and we have hosted education programs for young girls at the Memorial. The availability of resources is the only limitation.
Looking back, I can say with confidence that we have made a place for military women in our history books, adding a new chapter to America’s military history. We have not only changed the face of monumental Washington, but also added a new face to the image of America’s servicemembers and veterans. The Women In Military Service For America Memorial and Foundation have truly been Champions for Change.
The Women In Military Service For America Memorial Foundation is always looking for eligible women, so if anyone reading this knows of a servicewoman, living or deceased, help her take her rightful place in history. Visit our website at www.womensmemorial.org to access a registration form or contact us at 800-222-2294/703-533-1155 or firstname.lastname@example.org to find out if a woman is registered.
Wilma Vaught is the President of the Women In Military Service For America Memorial Foundation.
- Posted byon March 21, 2013 at 2:52 PM EDT
Marsha Four is being honored as a Champion of Change for her efforts as a woman veteran.
In looking back, it is much easier now to realize that my decision to enter the military changed my life forever. As a woman Veteran who served her country as an Army nurse in Vietnam (1969), I saw the best and the worse of humanity. The sixties and seventies were hard times; times of great unrest, times of civil upheavals, times of change, times of questioning...questioning who we were, what we stood for, and what we would accept. Brought to this unrest was the anti-war movement, the civil rights movement, the women's rights movement, and the list goes on. It was in this atmosphere that I reentered the “real world” from the world of war. This period in the history of our country and my military service changed me forever. It was in this time that I became the woman that I am today.
Upon my immediate return I extricated myself from all the emotional pain of war by taking a five month hiatus from life. I hit the road in a VW van with a man I met in Vietnam and later married. I recognize it now as running away; I like to think of it as getting my head together. During the ensuing years, I didn't think of myself as a Veteran. It never entered my mind. Happenstance brought me to meet another Vietnam nurse, Grace. It was she who brought me into the world of “Veteran,” and who helped me to embrace it with pride.
Until then, I didn't realize I had been searching all those years for an unknown reason for my life, but it was then that I opened myself and discovered who I was: I was now a member of an elite group of men and women, ones with whom I would stand forever. I educated myself in all that being a Veteran meant, which led me to discover that, while we all earned benefits, they were not always equal or equitable. Many Veterans were homeless, without jobs, seeking better health care. I began to align myself with many other women Veterans of my era who were fighting the good fight and pushing the envelope on the inequality of our VA benefits; women like Lynda, Lily, Mary, Sara, Joan and Linda. And so it began for me.
All of this led me to the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), initially joining a local chapter and eventually moving to its national office, where I was a part of a team working to ensure that the voices of Veterans were heard. I was able to contribute, write, and deliver Congressional testimony, receive a VA Secretarial appointment to the Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, and embrace the unacceptable situation of Veterans living on the streets and in shelters. If I was able to make a change then, it was my responsibility to do so. This lead me to the organization of a homeless Veterans initiative called Stand Down. Its creation loomed as an insurmountable task: to organize the local VA, the City of Philadelphia and its social service agencies in an effort to coordinate their services over a three day week end in a military camp setting. But it happened and it continues. I believe this effort played a major role in strengthening the foundation of the highly integrated system that now exists for homeless Veterans in Philadelphia today.
At this point I left hospital nursing to perform nursing on a different plain with The Philadelphia Veterans Multi-Service & Education Center, a non-profit agency. I remained with the agency until my recent retirement as its Executive Director, after seventeen years of working with Veterans who sought assistance; some for direction, some for care, some for dignity, some for hope. There have been many challenges and many accomplishments along the way, but I am grateful for every day of the experience. These past twenty-six years of my life have been an extraordinary journey and a blessed gift to me, never to have been discovered if not for that defining oath I made forty-five years ago in an Army recruiting office in Indianapolis.
I intend to continue my advocacy because as they say, “I'm not dead yet.”
Marsha Four sits on the National Board of Directors of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), and is the Chair of its National Women Veterans Committee