Veterans Affairs honors waters for commitment to women’s veterans
Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert A. McDonald (l), and Elisa M. Basnight, director of the Center for Women Veterans.
VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald (far left) joined VA leaders and champions of women veterans to honor Congresswoman Maxine Waters (CA-43) for her work to create the Center for Women Veterans in 1994.
By Christopher Spina
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) has honored Congresswoman Maxine Waters (CA-43) for her years of work on behalf of America’s women veterans.
In a ceremony that took place in Washington, D.C., Waters was honored by VA Secretary Bob McDonald for her work in creating the Center for Women Veterans, a special bureau within the VA that advocates for women veterans by ensuring health care benefits and other programs are effectively meeting women’s needs.
The event was to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the center’s founding. To mark the occasion, Waters participated in a ceremony with McDonald, Center Director Elisa Basnight, and former directors Irene Trowell-Harris, Joan Furey, and Dr. Susan Mather.
“Ranking Member Maxine Waters is the true matriarch of the Center for Women Veterans. It was her work back in 1994 that made the Center a long-overdue reality,” said VA Secretary Robert McDonald.
“After being elected to Congress, one of my first priorities was to introduce legislation that ensured women veterans were informed of their benefits and receiving appropriate care at the VA. And 20 years later, I am so proud to see how the Center has affected change,” said Waters. “By the year 2000, the Center had influenced the VA to provide prenatal and obstetrical care to women veterans. That same year, the VA announced a $3 million dollar investment to lift women veterans out of homelessness, an investment closely followed by Congress enacting legislation to care for children with birth defects born to women veterans of the Vietnam War. The Center has also connected female veterans with public and community service opportunities, while also ensuring the service and contributions of women Veterans and women in the military are properly recognized by our nation and society.”
Before the Center was created, there was a shocking inequality for women veterans trying to access VA benefits. A 1982 report found women were not receiving proper physical examinations at VA facilities. There was no access to basic gynecological care – a serious problem which contributed to women suffering a cancer rate twice that of women in the general population, with gynecological cancers being the most common. And a shocking 57 percent of female veterans did not even know they were eligible for VA services, benefits, and programs.
Acknowledging this problem, in 1993, Waters spearheaded legislation to create a special bureau for women at the VA. That legislation was enacted into law in 1994, creating the Center for Women Veterans to address these problems. As a member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Waters fought to ensure that the creation of the Center was included as part of the “Veterans’ Benefits Improvements Act of 1994,” enacted to provide for veterans of the Persian Gulf War.
Waters added, “Twenty years later, the Center is needed more than ever. Women are the fastest growing population within the DOD and VA. And they still face challenges – like a broken grievance system that forces them out of service more often than it holds predators accountable. I believe that in the future, the Center can take a leadership role in ensuring victims of sexual assault are provided access to the important services they need. And we all must act boldly to offer these victims a path to justice, so that they may come forward without fear.”
Waters received the honor on Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014.