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Women veterans help each other at conference

Star-Herald - 9/24/2017

They served their country proudly, but when newspapers, magazines and TV shows tell stories about veterans, they are often the faces of old men, their faces weathered from time, or of smiling young men who died young. The women who have served during wars are often not given the limelight. Many are forgotten.

Women have always served, were injured and died in war. Before being allowed to serve, they disguised themselves as men. Today, they continue to fight, on and off the battlefield, to be on equal ground with men.

PHOTOS: Women veterans help each other at conference

Mary Walker is the only woman to have received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Colonel Ruby Bradley is the military's most decorated woman. During WWII, almost 400,000 women served in the military.

"It is unknown how many women served in the Korean War," said Beth Linn, Army veteran. "They are forgotten more than that war."

Deborah Samson was part of an elite military unit. She removed a musket ball from her thigh with a penknife and a sewing needle. She was discharged in 1783. It wasn't until 1816 when she received her disability. Throughout history, women have had to fight, mostly alone, to receive the benefits and/or pension they deserved.

On Saturday, women who have served honorably gathered together for the Service Women Attain Power conference in Scottsbluff to talk about their service. Navy veteran Patricia Nelson said it is important for women veterans to get together, to support each other and to learn about each other.

SWAP held their first conference in Sidney four years ago. Army veteran Jen Baird said there was a large amount of information exchanged at that first meeting.

Baird went to that first meeting because her friend, Amy Anderson, said they should go. They carpooled with Sandra Rainey and had so much fun, it's resulted in a tight-knit bond of friendship and camaraderie.

SWAP has been beneficial to Baird over the years as she continues to press toward her, so far, seven year journey to receive disability status.

Navy veteran Carol Sinner said there are many roadblocks for veterans in their pursuit to receive assistance, including not wanting to admit to themselves they need help.

"Don't be afraid to reach out," Sinner said. "You signed your name on that line to give your life for your country and you deserve your benefits."

One of the biggest issues the women continue to have is obtaining proper care. They are dismissed and discounted because they are women. Linn said it is vital to be a good advocate for yourself to make sure you get the care you need. She fought for nine years for a doctor to believe she was disabled due to her service.

"We've got to fight for ourselves," Linn said. "In Hot Springs, I had a doctor who didn't believe women could get hurt in the military."

Eventually, the Veterans Administration said she couldn't work. After searching for what she could do, she joined the American Legion, moving up the ranks until she was named Nebraska's first woman commander. Along the way, Linn fought the men who didn't think she should be there.

Many of the women are still fighting alone, which is why SWAP is a vital component to learning how to work alone, but know there are other women out there to support them.

"I had to learn to stand up for myself," Linn said. "We're all learning to come together to support each other."

The women have experienced discrimination and judgment during and after their service. A World War II veteran at a previous SWAP conference and others said their fathers told them only whores or lesbians joined the military. Some of them were disowned by their families. When Nelson's father told her this, she was shocked he even knew those words.

A woman Linn knows recently went to a conference where the woman showed her ID and said, "I'm a veteran."

The women checking her in told her, it was OK. They believed she was a veteran and she didn't need ID.

"When they told her, 'We will support you,' she started crying," Linn said. "She had been doing it all alone. And we don't have to."

Linn and the other women at the SWAP conference are still learning the ins and outs of being a veterans. They keep on fighting - first for themselves, then for others. They know someone will be there to step in and help take away the burden.

No American woman has to serve. They are not required to register for selective service. They serve to protect their families, the rights of all Americans and to honor the freedoms of all Americans.

These women veterans have seen the blood and the gore. They feared the next bullet was for them. They feared they would never return to their loved homes. They carry the heartbreak and the joy only someone who has served can feel. They are forgotten when the war is over. And yet, they served.

"It was my right, my obligation and my duty," Linn said.

If you'd like to join SWAP, visit https://www.facebook.com/SWAPatSidney/ or contact Chris Wolf at 308-635-6042 or wolfc@wncc.edu.

 
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