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Minnesota National Guard
Women Veterans Group Changes a Paradigm

The definition of a veteran is a person who has served in the armed forces, yet it has taken decades for women to be acknowledged in this category

Since more than twenty-six percent of veterans are women, the Women Veterans Initiative Working Group is on a mission to educate them of programs and services that are available to improve their lives and well-being

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"Historically, women veterans haven't always acknowledged themselves as veterans It started way back in World War II and earlier, when women were brought into service during time of war, but as soon as the war was over they were discharged," said Trista Matascastillo, Chair of the Women Veterans Initiative Working Group "It was like, we don't need you anymore, go home, go back to being a wife and a mother"

Although women have played a role in the military for centuries, it wasn't until the early 1970's that women were allowed to serve on active duty "The other thing that we get a lot is, "˜well, you don't look like a veteran'," said Matascastillo "If we go to the VA for services, instantly somebody says, "˜Oh, you must be here with your husband'"

The Women Veterans Initiative Working Group, which started meeting in February 2008, found that only 1,500 out of 23,000 women veterans were utilizing services provided by the VA In order to understand where the disconnect was, the group sent a survey out statewide to women veterans After the group received feedback from the women veterans, they sprung into action

"We are working with our legislators and elected officials to bring light to it," said Matascastillo "We are also working with the VA Hospital We started what we call the "Battle Buddy" program at the VA So if a woman veteran is setting up her first appointment or a follow-up appointment, she can call us - we have women veterans who are trained and will go to her appointments with her We will sit with her in the waiting room, and make sure she knows how to get from one place to another, and just to be there with her It's very helpful, especially if it's your first time"

The group also holds an open meeting where they can continue to hear from women veterans, educate them about programs that are available, and connect them with service providers

"Another thing we do, once a month, is hold what we call a "˜coffee talk' at a coffee shop, for women veterans to come and talk and share their stories," Matascastillo said "It's a resource to share the issues and make them aware of what's going on"

The monthly meetings are open and free to the public Meetings are held on the 3rd Thursday of every month from 3-5 pm at various locations For more information, please visit their website at: http://googl/TYWsB

26 August 2011
Story by Sgt Dajon N Schafer
Minnesota National Guard Public Affairs

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