Lt. Col. Patricia Jackson-Kelley Named to Veteran’s Advisory Commission

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Introduction

As a Veteran of the U.S. Air Force and Air Force, Army and Navy Reserves, Lt. Col. Patricia Jackson-Kelley knows how tough life in the military can be for women. Women make up about 17 percent of the veteran population in the U.S. and are growing in the ranks of the homeless. After they serve, they face many of the challenged faced by male counterparts, including low wages, banks that are unwilling to lend them money for a home, lack of affordable housing and childcare and inadequate mental health services. However, women in the military are disproportionately affected by trauma caused by sexual assault. A recent study estimates that a slightly more than half of homeless women veterans were victims of sexual assault.  And so Jackson-Kelley, who was recently appointed to the Los Angeles County Veteran’s Advisory Commission by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, has dedicated her career to serving female veterans by helping them get access to services, assistance and moral support. Jackson-Kelley, who served 26 years of combined active duty and reserve service, was the program manager for a substance abuse ward and was also the Women Veteran Program Manager with the Department of Veterans Affairs – West Los Angeles. Now retired from the military, she intends to use her position on the Advisory Commission to publicize the resources and assistance that are available to women who have served. She is on the board of the nonprofit, Military Women in Need, one of Southern California’s oldest organizations solely dedicated to serve female veterans and their survivors with assistance ranging from preventing homelessness by helping to pay for rent or buying a refrigerator for a family led by a single-mother who is a veteran.

Q: What prompted you to focus on female veterans?

A: During my employment at the V.A. hospital, I was nurse manager of a 40-bed substance abuse unit. At any given time, there were three to four women on the ward. They faced challenges dealing with the men. I guess this was the beginning of my women veteran advocacy. We developed strategies that enhanced a feeling of privacy, safety and a sense of belonging. They had to develop coping skills for warding off wolf calls and inappropriate comments. It was especially difficult when there was only one woman patient. We made sure all women patients were located near the nurse’s station for safety reasons. We also had to address the women who were the aggressors.

Q: As the Women Veteran Program Manager what did you do?

A: I implemented programs, projects and services for women veterans. I developed collaboration in the community, provided workshops/seminars and worked closely with the administration to address the unique needs of women veterans. During the holidays I would take them to dinner and present them with gifts donated by community partners or voluntary services. Women veterans are oftentimes reluctant to seek the services they deserve. This oversight would oftentimes take me to skid row looking for women veterans.

Q: What did you witness on the streets?

A: I would ask them if they were veterans and most were very hostile and did not want to communicate. When I found one that would talk with me I would give them my card and write down information and tell them the resources were available and let them know they did not have to live on skid row.

Q: What kinds of issues to do women face in the military?

A: I view military sexual trauma as the worse atrocity possible. Many of these women have turned to drugs, sex and/or alcohol as coping mechanism. They have received dishonorable discharges, discharged with mental health diagnosis the feeling of hopelessness often leads to suicide. They also face the same discrimination women face in the civilian world.

Q: What can the military do to improve the situation for women?

A: More has been done than in the past but there are not enough resources to adequately address the situation. There is movement in the right direction but the military is not doing all it can do to address it. I don’t think it is on purpose, I think they don’t know.

Q: What changes would you like to see?

A: I would like to see more community involvement. I would like for us to do awareness workshops and teach self-defense classes. It is more difficult to accept how many women are out there but who don’t want to identify themselves as veterans. Historically, our society viewed a veteran as one who has served in combat. Today, it depends on the person or organization asking. Our working group at USC decided that a veteran has served at least one day active duty. An honorable discharge is the additional criteria. If you raised your hand and signed on the dotted line, you made a commitment to serve your country.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish on the Veteran’s Advisory Commission?

A: I would like the Advisory committee to become more involved with the community. We need to let veterans know our purpose and advocate for our county constituents. Ruth Wong, the director and I have discussed developing a survey for county employees to determine the number of veterans employed by the County of Los Angeles. It is our obligation to make them aware of their benefits. I am very interested in determining the number of women veterans so we can get them in the women veteran data base at CalVet and let them know their benefits. For example people don’t know that you can go online and get your DD214 (military discharge papers.)  They can also start filing their claims online.

Q: What is the One-Stop-Shopping idea that they hope to implement at Bob Hall Patriotic Hall?

A: At Patriotic Hall we are trying to provide the veterans with the services they need in one place. Issues related to mental health are growing more and more prevalent. Legal issues will be addressed .Veterans who have been unable to pay tickets that have gone into warrants will be able to receive assistance. This will allow them the opportunity to move on with their lives without a cloud hanging over their head.
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