Wyoming VA reaches out to women veterans needing help

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — There is one patient Lt. Jodi Smith cannot forget.

She met him in 2004 as a med tech with the Wyoming Air Guard’s 187th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron while transporting a young amputee from the Iraq battlefield to a field hospital. The patient couldn’t have been older than 19 or 20.

He had a manila envelope on his chest with instructions not to call his family. That was unusual. So Smith and the flight nurse introduced themselves and asked why he didn’t want to tell his family he was injured.

It’s Mother’s Day, the young soldier answered. He didn’t want his mother to worry.

“That was emotional,” Smith said. “That was really hard. But I was really proud to be an American right about then.”

This month, Smith, 36, of Cheyenne, embarked on her second deployment out of country. She will spend four months in Afghanistan, transporting injured soldiers to military hospitals.

The deployment though means she will miss a new event geared to people like her: women veterans. Promoting our Women Warriors of Wyoming is May 19 in Casper, billed as a day of networking, learning, motivation and inspiration, said Jackie Van Mark, public affairs director at the Sheridan Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

“The primary reason is we want to honor and recognize female veterans,” Van Mark said.

When Van Mark started her career, women comprised 10 to 12 percent of the military. Today, that percentage has grown to between 16 and 18 percent.

“I think, a lot of times, women veterans don’t think that the VA is a place for them,” said Jessica McDermott, a former Army captain with the 67th Combat Support Hospital.

McDermott served two tours in Iraq, one in 2004 and one in 2005.

At was lunchtime on Dec. 21, 2004,  a group of soldiers had just settled into the dining hall across the street from McDermott’s hospital when rockets hit. Suddenly her mail clerks and human resource officers were needed to run supplies, clean stretchers or help a commander go through body bags, identifying the dead.

She figures more than 90 wounded came to her hospital that day. At least 13 died.

She is looking forward to the Women Warriors event to connect with other female veterans who may have shared her experience. And she hopes women  will take a step to get the help they may need.

“One of the things I have struggled with personally is military people are told you don’t cry,” McDermott said. “When you get back, and you are having symptoms of PTSD and facing these other challenges, you can see yourself as weak.”

“We all struggle, but it’s about getting up and dusting yourself off.”

Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com

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About Lee Ann Colacioppo

I am the Senior Editor/News at the Denver Post. I have been at The Post sincd 1999 in a variety of positions, including city editor and investigations editor. I previously worked at The Des Moines Register, Greenville, S.C., News and Kingsport, Tenn., Times-News. I'am a Denver native and graduate of Drake University in Des Moines. View all posts by Lee Ann Colacioppo →