Taking Care of Women Veterans – Travis County TX (S1E6)

The state of Texas has the most women veterans in the entire country. But veterans’ programs were originally designed with men in mind. So, they had to think out of the box to provide women veterans with the services they needed. Women networking with women and with the help of the Travis County vets services, they are helping women return to life after active duty.

Transcription of Taking Care of Women Veterans – Texas Style (S1E6)

David: This is the good government show.

Susan Lewis: Even being pregnant in the military is a different kind of thing because they tell you in basic training, if Uncle Sam wanted you to have some kids, he’d issue them to you along with your duffel bag and boots.

Carol: And that’s what women members of the military were told back in the 1980s. Now much has changed since then, but you know, some things haven’t. Women veterans in Texas, that’s the topic of this edition of the Good Government Show. I’m Carol D’auria.

David: And I’m David Martin. So, Carol, why did you decide to focus on women in the state of Texas? Are they different than other women veterans?

Carol: Well, it’s not so much that they’re different, David. But we focused on Texas because it’s the state, believe it or not, with the most women veterans in the entire country. We’re talking nearly 200,000 women, followed by only Florida and California.

Now in Texas, they put the spotlight on Travis County, which is in the Austin area. And the reason I did that is because they had to really find a way to help these women. And they’ve been quite successful at it.

David: So what kind of problems do women veterans have? Are they different problems than men?

Carol: Well, the most obvious is the physical difference from men. Women can give birth, and that alone would be enough to bring on health issues that, you know, men just don’t have to worry about.

David: So the baby thing…

Carol: Right.

David: The baby…

Carol: But also women veterans are, you know, somewhat invisible, even though they can now do combat duty and carry a weapon in the military. They’ve been doing it since Desert Storm. Once they’re discharged, they tend not to really identify themselves as vets.

David: Why not? They don’t know. What are they doing?

Carol: Well, where a man might wear his navy cap all the time or a T-shirt that identifies him as a marine women. Not so much so. The general public doesn’t think of them as veterans.

David: And they just go to the local VFW, enjoy the party.

Carol: Thing they don’t. Why? Because women are really busy. So many women have children, especially when they first come out. Their kids are probably young. And so they have food to cook for kids. They have to get them off to school. They have to yell at the kids. There’s a lot to do.

David: Yell at the kids is very important when you’re a mom. That’s true. So they’re not smoking cigars with their buddies and drinking beer or something.

Carol: Not, not so much. OK, now Cathrine Robledo is a disabled Marine Corps veteran, and believe it or not, would you believe in this day and age she still gets harassed frequently? Listen to this.

Catherine Robledo: With my service connection. I have disability. Marine Corps disability plates. Whenever I go to Wal-Mart and I’m having a bad day, so I have to get too personal, but I have issues most mobility. So whenever I would go to the store, I usually park in a handicap, but usually the furthest handicap spot that’s from the door.

That way, if there’s somebody else there closer and I’ll get, you know, you’re not a veteran, you can’t be using your husband’s plates. Those aren’t yours. And I’m like, No, they are mine. And yes, I did earn them.

But either way, it’s none of your business kind of deal and stuff. So that happens a lot. Whether I’m at HGB, Wal-Mart, wherever I wind up going, that does tend to happen. A lot is, Oh, those aren’t your plates. You didn’t earn those. You’re perfectly fine.

David: Wow, that’s really terrible. So what kind of problems did she need help with and did she get it?

Carol: Well, she did get help. Catherine is divorced, and she’s the mother of two very young boys, both of whom are in grammar school, and one had a cancer like illness for which he needed chemotherapy when he was only about three years old.

So she lost her job because she had to stay home with him. She was going to put him in a daycare where they would actually administer the chemo. But her ex-husband didn’t like that idea, so she was getting evicted because she couldn’t hold her job.

Then there was a second time she was on the verge of eviction, and that’s when she met Susan Lewis. Now, Susan is a Desert Storm veteran herself, and she is now the director of the Veterans Services Department for Travis County, Texas.

So back up a bit because I want to tell you a little bit more about Lewis to help fill out this picture. Susan Lewis explain to me how veterans services they were really geared only for men. So when women needed these specialized services, they really had to get very creative.

And here’s what she and her female veterans did early on, like almost 20 years ago.

Susan Lewis: So we had meetings and the office, and so we had a network. So if someone in employment was helping someone and they needed to. And in talking to them, some things came out. They said, Well, you need to go see Susan at Travis County or if someone, you know, had someone that was MST or had combat stress, I say, you need to go to the vets in our talk to Dr. Hawthorne. So it was a network. Our point was we were just trying to get make sure that everybody got the help that they needed, that we know that just wasn’t part of their traditional provisions.

You know women have kids, and that’s a that’s that’s something that they’re not that we don’t have a single dads because we do. But it’s just different. Women are usually in that. Primary care giving role. And so we just operate a little bit different, we’re not really one for… We don’t gather the same way male veterans gather like they go to the bar and they wear their hats and they tell war stories and women are busy. You know, when you when you when you’re trying to get them together, you better have something to say that’s going to really impact their life and help them solve some of the problems that they are dealing with.

Like, you know, how do I manage this, this daycare thing or how do you know we’re just a little bit different? And obviously, women are the ones that physically carry the children. They’re the ones that to take maternity leave and go give birth, not not the men.

David: Wow. So they really had to come up with some new ways to help these women. So when these women have a health related problem, it sounds like they really have to scramble.

Carol: Exactly. Susan Lewis gave me two examples. one is about a pregnant woman and what she had to do. And the other stories about Susan Lewis herself when she needed an ultrasound.

Susan Lewis: So one of the things that we brought to their attention and believe it or not, a lot of the leadership didn’t know. Probably what really did. It for me is I had a veteran that was six or seven months pregnant that came to see me, and there was nothing she could get.

They told her she had to drive to Temple, which is an hour away from Austin, for pre-natal care. That’s ridiculous. So there was nothing in Austin, and you had to drive to Temple. And so I had to go up there for an ultrasound. So I’m going up there for the ultrasound and I’m driving all the way up there on a full bladder. So, you know, I mean, you know, I’m making light of it. But but but …

Carol: But it’s not funny when it’s happening…

Susan Lewis: Like, so you run into it, you know, you get there, you’re parking, and then I’ll let you park over here. They tell you, ma’am, you can’t park here because that’s for veterans. I’m a veteran. It’s ridiculous. You know, that’s pretty basic care for women. So we should not have to travel that far. But we had to raise a lot of game before that came up, and they they paid attention.

David: Wow. So these women really get a hard time, don’t they?

Carol: They sure do in many ways. And that’s only one problem.

David: The sponsor of the good government show is Liquid.

Carol: And we love Liquid, and not just because they are the sponsor.

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Carol: The family had trouble just talking about their products. Well Liquid showed them a clear way to get their message across?

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We often hear about homeless men, veterans, many with post-traumatic stress. Do women have the same issues with homelessness?

Carol: Oh, sure, there are homeless women’s veterans, but it’s different. It can be worse, really, because many women veterans have children, and so they tend to be the primary caregivers for their kids, much more so than the men. And it causes really big problems.

Susan Lewis: This was really bizarre. I had two people at one time in the same month. There we’re just almost identical situations where they were going to send them to Temple to the dormitory, which is our way. But they both had sons and both the sons. Where one was an 11th grade and one was in 12th grade getting ready to graduate. And so in order for them to get the housing and to fit on that criteria and all that, they had to be in a shelter, they had to be in a shelter for a certain amount of time.

So she would not go in because she wasn’t taking her son there because if they’re over 13, they can’t be with their mother. And she said, I know, I know that he’s 17 and I know, she said, but I’m sorry, you still my baby and I am not. I don’t know who’s over there and and you know. And so that became problematic. That became a barrier for a lot of them. But again, you know, that’s when you go to your underground and you go to your VFW and your ladies auxiliary.

And say look, I got, you know, pass, you pass the hat. Right. You know, you end up passing gas and they had to try to get those people in a situation. Where? You can see a lot of times if you can even get the money to send the child to a family member.

David: Now you said earlier that Katherine, she’s our Marine Corps veteran. You said she was about to be evicted.

Carol: Right a second time. She explained to me that she was evicted the first time and at one point she was really in dire straits. She was afraid to go to a shelter with her kids.

David: Why was she afraid to go to the shelter.

Carol: Well, you know, sometimes they separate mothers and kids if if the children boys are over the age of 13. But she also didn’t want to go to a shelter with her kids because she just felt that, you know, sometimes there are troubled people in the shelter, and she didn’t want her kids exposed to that. And she also has some post-traumatic stress, a lot of anxiety that she suffers with. So she didn’t want to go that route. What she did is she lived, believe it or not, in her car for a while, and then she lived with relatives for a bit.

Eventually, she was able to get on her feet. She found a security job with Travis County, but even then she was having real trouble paying her bills. And so that’s when she was on the verge of being evicted again. It was at that point that she met the folks in Travis County at the veterans office, and here’s how that played out.

Catherine Robledo: I met Susan, I met Berta and Anthony and Oli and everybody. And they were being very helpful. They found out that I was a vet, so they try to help me with my disability claim. At the time, it was only 30%.

They helped me with that and they actually helped me get it to 70%, which was great. But when Berta found out that I was wind up actually finding a place, and when she found out that I was having issues making payments on it and I was actually going to be evicted within the next couple of months, she was able to get a hold of the VFW, which is Veterans of Foreign Wars, their motorcycle club, and they were actually able to do. I had no idea this was happening. Of course, I do like a raffle type deal, and they were actually able to raise money for me to get a new apartment in a better area closer to where I was working and closer to where the kids went to school.

David: So I see what you mean when you say these women veterans had to form their own network and they had to get creative?

Carol: Exactly. And here’s another way that women veterans are a bit unique. They need to talk about different things from men.

David: So women have different conversations than men have…

Carol: Different topics. David

David: Different topics. Okay, I got it.

Susan Lewis: A female veteran and we had people that came from all over the place. They will contact us because they wanted to talk to another female veteran about filing a disability claim. And it could be MST, military sexual trauma. So it could be that, you know, or they didn’t feel comfortable talking to a man about it. Or it could be that it’s some kind of gynecological OBGYN problem that they didn’t feel comfortable talking to a man about and that a man didn’t feel comfortable talking to them about it.

So, you know, they don’t want to hear, just wait and write it down, you know? So you could have, well, you know, you know, I mean, it is what it is. And so you you had that sympathetic ear. And of course, you know, there’s a there’s there’s certainly a camaraderie like a sorority with women veterans.

David: Wow, Carol. It sounds like these women have had a really tough go.

Carol: They really have hasn’t been easy.

David: And so the whole time it’s been the Travis County Veterans Service department that really seems to be at the core of help for all these women.

Carol: Yes. And Susan Lewis, the director of the Veterans Department in Travis County, says it’s the county government that was really able to do things fairly quickly because that’s really what the women needed. When there’s a problem, you need it fixed right away. And the Veterans Administration and other agencies like that, they frequently have these big, bloated bureaucracies. They can’t get things done quickly.

Susan Lewis: That’s the thing is, you know, once the right people hear that this is a problem and it’s the easy fix, and it’s even and it’s even more economical, you know, then they’re fine. But but you just have to go through so many processes with the VA because they’re, you know, that’s bureaucracy there, too.

To get something like that looked at, Evaluate has got to go to ten other people and then they say yes, and then you’ve got to go through the whole production to get it implemented. And that’s the other thing that I appreciate about working at this at this level is you you just can present your case to, you know, to our subcommittee and to our commissioners court and to maybe coordinate with some other departments. And you can get it done. You can get it done.

Carol: So Travis County, Texas, is helping women veterans get the services they are entitled to.

David: Wow Carol, it sounds like you found the right woman in Texas to get these women the help they need. So here’s another example of how good government sees a problem and says, I can fix this. Go ahead and they do fix it and get it done. I’m David Martin.

Carol: And I’m Carol D’auria.

David: And that’s another edition of the Good Government Show, thanks for listening. See you next time. The Good Government Show is a Valley Park Production, Jason Stershic is our editor and producer. Associate producers are Jade Ludlow and Mackenzie Martin, the executive producers of The Good Government Show are Jim Ludlow, David Martin and David Snyder. Join us again right here for another episode of The Good Government Show.