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Women veterans group creates new pathways to access needed services

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There are about 300,000 veterans in Oregon eligible for services when they return home.

But women are sometimes excluded, either by lack of services or lack of access.

There are over 2,000 women veterans in Jackson County alone.

Chandra York is on of those vets. She served in the Navy in Kuwait.

When she returned, she didn't feel like she fit into the framework of the veterans services available.

"As we all served in the military, our needs as female veterans may be different than the needs of male veterans," says York.

That includes goods and supplies, as well as mental and physical healthcare.

She set out to create LAVA, or Ladies Are Veterans Also, which launched last week.

The goal is to create a supportive community and improve women veterans' access to services.

For example, rules prohibiting children at the V.A. bar some women from accessing services when they need them.

Or past experiences make it too difficult.

"A lot of female veterans had military sexual trauma, and so they don't use V.A. services because it's traumatizing for them to go to the V.A. They try to distance themselves from the military and services," says Brandie Barnes, an Army veteran.

The V.A. has made changes to better suit women, and groups like Rogue Valley Veterans and Community Outreach do attempt to connect them with services.

But a major gap stilll extists.

"We serve here at rogue valley veterans and community outreach about 500 veterans a month," says Don Richie, Executive Director of Rogue Valley Veterans & Community Outreach. "Of that, maybe 10 female veterans that come through our doors."

Chandra says thats part of a national issue.

"You know, I think it's just a lack of awareness, you know, definitely nationwide," she says. "There's just that group of individual women who, one, don't see themselves as veterans, and we really want to be like - hey, you served, and you served proudly, and it's okay to consider yourself a veteran."

She hopes that LAVA will help fix that through education, community, and empowerment.

If you're a veteran and want to participate, reach out to Don Richie, Executive Director of Rogue Valley Veterans & Community Outreach at (541)779-8564.

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