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A Florida Voice for Women Veterans Goes to Washington

Bobbie O'Brien
WUSF Public Media

Florida women veterans have a new voice in Washington D.C. It’s Larri Gerson, a veteran claims examiner with the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs.

Gerson is a new appointee to the federal, VA Committee on Women Veterans which advises VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

She believes her frontline status - as a claims examiner and as a former women veteran coordinator for Florida – earned her appointment to the federal committee.

“They wanted us women who are on the front-lines, the benefits front-lines, so that we can come up there and really speak to the problems that women veterans are facing around the country,” Gerson said.

Gerson has already met in Washington with the 12-member committee. She listened and learned but also came prepared with some priority items. Her top issue is getting a full time women veteran coordinator for each state. She said only three of the 50 states have a full time coordinator to advocate and educate.

“The federal government could fix this problem by funding the position in each state directly,” Gerson said. “I went up to Washington with my mindset this would create a consistent service for female veterans no matter where they live.”

However an under-secretary with the VA used statistics to argue that a women veteran coordinator in every state was not needed.

“I disagree,” Gerson said. “The purpose of a women’s coordinator should not be based only on numbers. I’m not a bean counter.”

She’s not given up on that issue and is bringing up others.

“Whether women veterans were getting equal consideration for service connection when they file for PTSD under the relaxed legislation for combat exposure and MST (Military Sexual Trauma),” Gerson said. “Do women veterans have to work harder to make their case at the regional level.”

As a veteran claims examiner, she’s noted discrepancies in the processing and ratings of claims, especially women veterans.

Gerson doesn’t expect women veteran issues to be resolved overnight. She is just happy to be a member of an advisory committee and get the women’s issues before VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

Bobbie O’Brien has been a Reporter/Producer at WUSF since 1991. She reports on general news topics in Florida and the Tampa Bay region.
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