WASHINGTON, D.C. — First lady Michelle Obama had a message for women veterans March 2: “Tell your story.”
The first lady and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of vice president Joe Biden, attended an annual Women’s History Month reception, honoring women veterans and hosted by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi at the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall.
Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma L. Vaught was singled out for honors at the reception. The first woman comptroller selected for the rank of brigadier general, Vaught served after her military retirement as president of the board of directors for the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation Inc. until January of this year.
Obama called Vaught “one of the most inspiring, trailblazing women I have ever met.”
“Thanks to brilliant, fearless women like General Vaught, today more than 200,000 women are serving our country in just about every role and rank,” the first lady said. “They are flying fighter jets, training new recruits, they’re graduating Army Ranger School — and I met those graduates. They are awesome — fierce. And as you’ve already heard, they will soon be welcome in every combat unit in our armed forces.”
But “the striking reality,” Obama said, is that those women in uniform and 3 million living women veterans “still face plenty of challenges as they serve this country and then transition back to civilian life.”
Many women who have served don’t self-identify as veterans, she said, and they thus miss out on benefits they have earned — only one in 10 takes advantage of GI Bill benefits.
“When you meet these women and you hear their stories, you begin to understand why they might be reluctant to tell,” she said. Obama said women veterans she has spoken with have experienced disbelief, outdated assumptions or misguided questions about their service.
“When these women have sacrificed so much and served so bravely, they should never have to hide their accomplishments,” she said. “They should never have to worry about whether their service will be valued equally. And just like every veteran who has served this country, they should be getting every single one of the benefits they’ve earned.”
The first lady pointed to improvements in recent years. With Veterans Affairs funding now at “unprecedented levels,” she said, women’s VA health outreach efforts are improving.
“We’ve trained 2,400 veteran health-care providers in women’s health, and established a designated women’s health provider at every VA medical center in the country,” she said.
Obama challenged her audience and “folks around the country” to take action on behalf of women veterans: legislate for them, aid in their transition to civilian life, and commit to giving them jobs.
To women veterans she said, “I want to ask you to stand tall and share your story.”
Veterans develop skills “that uniquely set you apart,” she said.
“All of you learned how to build a team and lead others under pressure, and complete any mission in front of you no matter what it takes,” she said. “See, that’s why it’s important that you tell your own stories. … Our girls, our daughters and granddaughters, need to hear them.”
Obama also urged her audience to “use the women’s vets hashtag” to lift up women veterans’ stories on social media platforms.
“If we all keep joining forces, then I am confident that we can serve our men and women in uniform, and our veterans, as well as they have served this country,” she said.
Joining Forces is an initiative Obama and Biden launched in 2011. As the White House website states, it is “a nationwide initiative calling all Americans to rally around service members, veterans, and their families and support them through wellness, education, and employment opportunities.”