Women Veterans Rock!

Shevry Lassiter | 11/16/2011, 2:27 p.m.

Many tributes and ceremonies took place on the Veterans Day holiday celebrating and honoring our nation's more than 24 million military veterans. Included in that number were, according to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the fastest growing group within the veteran population--women.

The population of women veterans in the United States and Puerto Rico, as of September 2010, numbered 1,840,380 with the largest number of women veterans in California, Texas, Florida, Virginia and Georgia. (The VA reports there are 3,886 women veterans in the District while Maryland has 49,129. West Virginia has 11,870 women vets and Virginia leads with more than 92,000.)

In honor of women veterans, Women Veterans ROCK!, a coalition of women veteran organizations and women advocacy organizations supporting America's women veterans, sponsored a Veterans Day observance at Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus (THEARC) in Southeast on Nov. 11.

The event included a tribute and remembrance ceremony, recognition awards, musical selections, a dance performance and a poetry reading. WHUR 96.3 FM radio host, Lorna Newton served as the mistress of ceremony. District Mayor Vincent Gray addressed the crowd and D.C. Housing Authority Executive Director Adrienne Todman delivered the keynote message. Women Veterans Rock presented Rising Star Awards to Tricia Richardson and Marion Bass Dyer, and a Voices of Victory award was presented to Raquel Riley Thomas.

On a more somber note, the event also served to underscore the problems all veterans face: high rate of homelessness, difficulty readjusting to civilian life, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Todman told the veterans "You are no less a soldier because you return home and we have a responsibility to make sure that the service you did overseas or even here is honored by giving you the support, the nurturing, and care that you need."

Gwen Swindall, 44, a Northeast resident, served in the Army during peace times and received a housing voucher from Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing ( VASH).

"You just have to follow up with those people," Swindall said. "The VASH voucher helps military women who are homeless and I've been in my place for almost two years now."

The coalition, under the direction of Deborah Harmon-Pugh, president and editor-in-chief of the Women Veterans Research Consortium, chose Veterans Day as a day of charity to bring all of the community organizations together that support women veterans working alongside the District of Columbia Office of Veterans Affairs.

"What's really rewarding [about this event] is that many of these women have either been homeless, unemployed and/or underemployed and so all of the things that we have done we make available to them today so that they can walk away feeling like somebody really cares about them -- somebody wants to support them, and it doesn't cost them anything but their time. We just ask them to come with a willing spirit, and they leave really filled with a lot of important information."

Fatima Miller, a student at the University of the District of Columbia said, "It's about time somebody has decided to do something. When I returned from the military, I was homeless and had a hard time finding employment. It is programs like this that give me hope."