There are more than 160,000 women veterans living and working in Florida.
“Many of them don’t even realize - they’re veterans. They feel they’re not recognized as veterans,” said Alene Tarter, director of benefits and assistance for the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs (FDVA) based at Bay Pines.
Larri Gerson used to be one of those women veterans. She now supervises benefits claims at the FDVA.
“I didn’t know I was a veteran for 25 years because I didn’t grow up in a military family,” Gerson said.
“It wasn’t until I came here working at the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs that I realized how important it is to have that knowledge.”
So, Florida is sponsoring its first Women’s Veterans Regional Conference, March 7 from 9 am to 1 pm, at the Veterans Affairs Regional Office, 9500 Bay Pines Blvd, St. Petersburg.
Navy veteran Cynthia Brown, a claims examiner and state women veterans’ coordinator, is organizing the conference around the current issues affecting women vets.
“Employment issues, homelessness, mental health and obviously health care and benefits,” Brown said.
One of those benefits rarely used by women is the government hiring preference extended to all veterans according to Jacquelyn Consentino, the FDVA veterans’ preference administrator.
“Men use it. They use it all the time, but for some reason when the women fill out their applications they just glide over it and don’t seem to use it,” Consentino said.
Consentino is one of several panelists who will field questions at the end during an open-microphone session.
“What I want them to know when they come to the conference, I’m here to help them,” Consentino said.
The conference is for women veterans only.
“A lot of times services are geared towards men and their needs and their health issues. But for women, we have separate needs and health issues and this allows for a forum for us to come together,” said Chava Grier, a former U.S. Army military police officer.
The keynote speaker is Dr. Betty Moseley Brown, associate director of the VA Center for Women Veterans of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.