DAV Magazine March/April 2018 : Page 17

been through. I learned I wasn’t alone.” DAV’s 2014 report Women Veterans: The Long Journey Home spotlighted the success the Department of Veterans Affairs has had with retreat programs for women veterans. One recommendation from that report was for the VA and the Department of Defense to develop a pilot program for structured women’s transition support groups to address issues with marriage, deployment, changing roles, child care and living as a dual military family. “Peer-support groups have proven time and again to be essential to women veterans’ health and well-being,” said National Legislative Director Joy Ilem. “If we can give women veterans the opportunity to experience the growth and healing that comes with this type of program, we should do it.” The program begins with a seven-day retreat, initiating students into the Warrior PATHH, and delivers the equivalent of 18 months of therapy in seven intensive days of training. Assistant National Legislative Director Shurhonda Love attended the retreat and said she was able to experience life-changing therapy, support and partnership. “Those seven days changed my life,” said Love. “We learned who we are, what we’re about and how to over-come the unique challenges we face as women veterans. I left the Army 15 years ago—imagine what a difference this program would have made then and imagine what it can do for women just now getting out of the military.” According to Boulder Crest, all Warrior PATHH instructors have faced similar struggles, and the blended combat veteran and civilian team members leverage their own experiences to guide attendees through the program. “We are strength-based and solution-focused, we do not believe our combat veterans are broken,” said Suzi Landolphi, senior PATHH guide at Boulder Crest. “We’ve proudly supported the programs at Boulder Crest for a long time now, and the feedback we’ve received from veterans has been nothing but positive,” said National Voluntary Services Director John Kleindienst, who helps identify participants and organize events. Congress has also started taking notice of the benefits gained through peer-support programs both inside and outside of the VA. A bill introduced in the House— H.R. 4635—aims to increase the number of women hired as peer counselors for the VA suicide prevention program, to specifically address the special needs of women veterans. “Women veterans face unique challenges reintegrating in their homes and communities after deployment,” said National Commander Delphine Metcalf-Foster. “They are more likely to be divorced, single parents and lack a social network. They are also more likely to be unemployed and struggle financially, despite higher educational attainment than male peers. Exposure to military sexual trauma and substance abuse disorders make women veterans more prone to homelessness and put them at a higher risk for suicide.” DAV Resolutions 225 and 245 support the enhance-ment of services for women veterans, including mental health services and increased use of peer specialists. “The introduction of a bill that recognizes the need for peer support at the VA is a great step forward,” said Love. “If we can ensure women veterans have the opportunity to learn and heal from one another’s experiences—like through the Boulder Crest experience—we may change the future for the next generation.” n From left: Women veterans Seymone Spence, Diana Fritz, Stephanie Driessel, Assistant National Legislative Director Shurhonda Love, Luz Helena and Valerie McIntosh spent seven days together at Boulder Crest. The small group will continue to work together over the next 18 months as part of the post-traumatic growth curriculum and peer support. DAV.ORG | FACEBOOK.COM/DAV | @DAVHQ | @DAVHQ 17

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