A local veteran is providing a voice to those around the state in her new role as coordinator for women veterans for the State Association of Pennsylvania.
The deputy director of Monroe County's Veterans Affairs, Lisa Kaye was appointed to the coordinator position earlier this summer.
"It's about feedback, the exchange of ideas and identifying issues of concern," Kaye said of her new role.
Kaye hopes to meet with Pennsylvania's women veterans and those who help serve them to discuss what issues they face and what resources they need. Kaye will relay that information to her parent organization, the Pennsylvania Association of County Directors.
Officials there make sure the information reaches the federal level, where it will help shape new programs and legislation to benefit women veterans. Kaye will also help connect women with services and resources.
She will continue in her role as deputy director of Monroe County's Veteran Affairs.
Carries the same weight
Although Kaye was unsure of exact figures, she knows from personal experience in her role as deputy director that there are more women serving in the military in recent years.
Women are still not allowed to fight in front line combat infantry, but they do serve in roles where they are directly impacted by the consequences of war, Kaye said. For instance, a woman might be a driver to transport soldiers.
"She carries the same weight as these guys, she's just behind the scenes," Kaye said.
Women can also serve as military pastors, a position in which she may come in direct contact with sick, injured or dying soldiers as she provides spiritual counseling.
After service in the military, women may suffer the same injuries and mental health conditions as men, but they require specialized care. Women are different both physiologically and mentally, Kaye said.
There's also the stigma of sexual trauma in the military.
"Sexual trauma is not necessarily a common denominator among women veterans, but it's still something you don't really see on the male side," she said.
According to the most recent statistics from the Department of Veterans Affairs, there were about 2.2 million women veterans across the country as of last October. At that time, there were 79,666 women veterans in Pennsylvania.
"We want the same level of care our brother veterans receive, and the same level of respect and recognition," said Mary Ross, commander of National Women Veterans of America, a Tennessee-based advocacy organization for women veterans.
Missing GYN care
About 16 percent of all military personnel currently deployed are women, Ross said. Still, medical services geared specifically toward women are lacking.
"I think, especially in the (Veterans Affairs) medical system, one of the primary things that is missing is gynecological and obstetric care. Basic GYN care is not available at many local VA hospitals," Ross said.
Many local VA hospitals are still geared toward the needs of male veterans.
"They've taken a system that's been designed to treat men, and put the round peg in the square hole. They've smoothed the edges to fit the space, but not enough to really specifically target women," Ross said.
Ross believes things are moving in a positive direction, however.
Women Veterans Coordinator positions, such as the one Kaye just filled, are important to the upward swing.
Each state appoints a coordinator to oversee the needs of its female veteran population, Ross said.
"When a woman wants to file a disability claim or other gender-specific issue, I think it's a lot easier and less traumatic if she can talk to another woman," Ross said. "I think part of the reason things are moving in a positive direction is because we've gotten some really strong women veteran coordinators in the system."
For information on services available to veterans, visit the Monroe County Department of Veterans Affairs, Room 101 in the Monroe County Administration Center at 1 Quaker Plaza in Stroudsburg.
Call Lisa Kaye at 570-517-3187.