As a kid, I dreamed of attending the Air Force Academy, learning to fly, and traveling the world as a fighter pilot. But somewhere along the way, I was told I couldn’t be a fighter pilot because I didn’t have 20/20 vision. Whether this was correct, I don’t know, and my life took a very different course. If I had gone into the Air Force, however, I may have become one among the growing number of women Veterans served by Akoya’s client, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
In March, we celebrate Women’s History Month, which takes on greater significance every year with the growing number of women Veterans. Some have served overseas. Some have retired from active duty. Some have deployed while in the Guard or Reserve, and all are taking their place in history as Veterans with a capital V. Some may not realize it—women don’t always identify themselves as Veterans—but they signed up and did their part, just like the men. While the definition of Veteran hasn’t changed, the population has. Today’s Veterans are younger and increasingly female, with different health care needs.
Our Akoya team works with some remarkable female Veterans every day: a Marine Corps Veteran and exceptional orator who hollers “Ooh Rah!” with such power it can make you shake; a Navy Nurse Corps Captain, now retired, who taught leadership development to dozens of Navy Reserve Officers; a Desert Storm Veteran who challenges us to “amp up the passion” in our communications work to reach women Veterans. These leaders all play a role in VA’s ongoing culture change to enhance care and improve services to the growing women Veterans population.
Last year I learned of a quote from an NPR story, one in a series celebrating women Veterans during Women’s History Month. “Let the generations know that women in uniform also guaranteed their freedom. That our resolve was just as great as the brave men who stood among us. … That the tears fell just as hard for those we left behind us.” These words are carved into the ceiling of the Women’s Memorial, the only major national memorial dedicated to women in the military. It serves as the gateway to Arlington National Cemetery, just across the Potomac River from VA headquarters.
I think about this quote and wonder about the path not taken. Would I have had what it takes to be an Air Force pilot? Would I have felt worthy to call myself a U.S. Armed Forces Veteran? “Veteran” signifies honor, courage, and sacrifice on behalf of the nation, and VA is working hard to ensure that female soldiers, and the public, associate it with their service.