Hear about the issues faced by female veterans and a set of women veterans’ expos being held by the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services coming up next month. Wanda Wright, the director of the department, will tell us more.
Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Governor Ducey signed legislation that overhauled the state's pension system for police and firefighters. The reform package included raising the age of eligibility for full benefits to 55 and a crackdown on the so-called pension spiking and putting a hard cap on benefits for new hires. The reforms were sponsored by Senator Debbie Lesko with bipartisan support. Voter approval is still needed for part of the legislation because it changes benefits for current employees.
Ted Simons: Tonight we debut a monthly series that looks at issues facing veterans. We begin with a discussion on the programs and services available to women veterans. A recent study revealed that women veterans are more likely to become homeless, face a more difficult time getting employment and some had been victims of sexual abuse while in the military. Joining us is Wanda Wright, director of the Arizona Department of Veterans Services. Good to see you, thank you for being here.
Wanda Wright: You're welcome, my pleasure.
Ted Simons: Issues facing women veterans, give us a list of what you're hearing and seeing out there.
Wanda Wright: What I'm hearing is that we don't have very good transitional housing for women veterans. And we have not very good health care in the V.A. system necessarily, not all V.A. Hospitals have women clinics. That's important to us, as women, to be able to have good health care. And so you know, I will be working actually with the V.A. to try to expand the women health care they have there right now.
Ted Simons: Do many women veterans just not use the V.A. and go elsewhere?
Wanda Wright: They don't. Sometimes they will find their own practitioners to go to, or they just won't get health care. That is really the most unfortunate side effect of this. It's very important for them to have a safe, secure place. As you've stated, we have quite a few cases of MST, military sexual trauma. And if there is not a safe place for them to go to get counsel, therapy and actual health care they will not go.
Ted Simons: The issues that we're talking about and the issues we will talk about, have they changed over the years?
Wanda Wright: I feel like they have. There are several V.A. Hospitals that now have full women clinics. So there is work that has been done but still work yet to be done.
Ted Simons: We're talking mammography, prenatal and child care.
Wanda Wright: Gynecology, obstetricians, all of that.
Ted Simons: They're not available at many V.A.s?
Wanda Wright: Not at all of them.
Ted Simons: How do you get this changed?
Wanda Wright: The V.A. is working hard to try to fund to increase those clinics. As the State Department we just try to advocate for our women veterans. I have a women's veteran coordinator within the department that works with the V.A. to try to get support for our women veterans when they are needed so that we're really good at referring, and getting these women access to the health care. And whatever kind of care they might need.
Ted Simons: Indeed, and not just health care. Obviously that's a major issue.
Wanda Wright: But benefits as well. Filing claims for disability, pensions, if you are service connected or not and unable to work, all of these benefits we will connect you to.
Ted Simons: I would imagine just locating military records can be an issue.
Wanda Wright: Yes, yes.
Ted Simons: That could be probably a big issue, can't it?
Wanda Wright: It can be a big issue.
Wanda Wright: It is our -- we try very hard to find those. It's also the V.A.'s mandate to try hard as hard as they can to find reports.
Ted Simons: G.I. bill, benefits, those sorts of things?
Wanda Wright: Yes, we connect them to all of that.
Ted Simons: Basically the vet comes to you and says I need to find out my employment options. I'm having a difficult time right now. Or I need to find my records, find some old buddies, people I served with. Are you the portal that takes them to other places? Or do you take charge?
Wanda Wright: In certain cases we are. We are partners with the V.A. As a federal entity they have funding to do those kinds of things. As a department for the State I think we're really advocates for Arizona veterans, as far as trying to get them the care they seek. We will connect them to education, to home mortgages, we will connect them to filing claims for compensation or pension. As well as refer to mental health, behavioral health, trauma, to other agencies.
Ted Simons: That's an interesting point. Describe the relationship between the State Department and the Feds, between state and federal here.
Wanda Wright: And what I like to say is that we connect veterans to their benefits. The V.A. actually adjudicates their benefits. They actually pay them. So when the individual's trying to sort of navigate through the process of filing a claim we are very helpful in that respect.
Ted Simons: Interesting.
Ted Simons: The biggest thing women vets need to know, what's the most important thing?
Wanda Wright: One thing I'd like to point out, our department is having four women expos coming up in March and April. March 12th and March 19th we will have one. The first is in Glendale at Glendale community college. The second one is in Tucson at University of Arizona. We have two more in April on the 9th of April, it will be at ASU in Tempe. And the final one will be in Flagstaff at NAU. And we chose schools because they have great transportation to them, and they are neutral places. They are safe, secure places for women to go.
Ted Simons: Can we get more information if someone's watching right now? Remember, two in March and two in April, where can they go?
Wanda Wright: They can go to our website at ADVS.gov. You can register there as a participant or a vendor or exhibitor to provide any services for those women, as well.
Ted Simons: ADVS.gov.
Ted Simons: Thanks for joining us, good to see you.
Wanda Wright: Thank you.
Wanda Wright:Director of Arizona Department of Veterans' Services