“Ellsworth “Tony” Williams (President/CEO for Veterans Counseling Veterans) attended the 4 day Advisory Committee on Women Veterans (ACWV). On the second day of the Advisory Committee on Women Veterans conducted a Town Hall at the Women’s Memorial Cemetery in Arlington, VA.
As I sat down to write my experience, I knew I was at a crossroad. Tell the truth and be prepared to be blacklisted, shunned and uninvited to any advisory committee event in the future or describe a Pollyanna experience, hoping to be welcomed to the next VA event. Win the battle but lose the war. I refuse to give in the status quo. I would be doing a disservice to my membership, veterans (male and female) and me. I will roll the dice and accept where they land. I first want to say, I am not a chronic VA “basher”. In my travels, I ran into many veterans telling me how great their VA experience has been. In fact, I interned at James A Haley VA Medical Center, Tampa and had a great experience. Most of the employees there truly cared about veterans. As Secretary McDonald stated “nonprofits are not the competition, but can actually complement the VA’s mission to take care of our Veterans, but I digress. Here goes….
It was a huge disappointment on so many levels. I was completed disappointed on the whole operation with regards to the Town Hall meeting. It shouldn’t have been titled “Town Hall” because the term Town hall gives the false impression that it was opportunity for the public and the women veteran community to talk to the members of the ACWV committee. Instead, the complete opposite happened. The format only favored VA .
The entire event was controlled by the VA CWV staff, to include the collection of the question cards.
The event was scheduled to last 90 minutes, of which 80 minutes were spent on the introduction of the presenters and the remaining 10 minutes were spent on 3 questions from the public.
The attendance was sparse as well. I counted no more than 8 people, outside of the committee members and the CWV staff.
None of the Committee members were even on the panel. Instead they all sat in the front row, and looked on as spectators, as they watched the Deputy Director of Center of Women Veterans, Ms. Betty Moseley Brown orchestrated the entire event. The only role the ACWV Chair played was reading the questions handed to her by the Director of Center of Women Veterans, Ms. Elisha Basnight. At the end of the event, the Committee members were quickly shepherd out the auditorium by CWV staff to a waiting bus to their next destination.
I was surprised on the lack of turnout, lack of command and control by the ACWV Chair, and the miniscule amount of questions asked and answered. This event was supposedly the one chance the public had to voice their concerns and grievances. I traveled all the way from Tampa, Florida to give the members of Veterans Counseling Veterans a voice.
85 percent of Veterans Counseling Veterans members are female veterans. I was to ask why so few military veteran mental health providers were employed by VA? Why the VA and TRICARE have different approaches to hiring mental health counselors? Why only 6 percent of mental health providers had military experience (RAND, 2015)? I wrote those questions on the 3×5 card and handed them to the VA staff anticipating my questions to be asked and answered by the Mental Health representative on the panel. Instead all of the questions were bundled up with a promise that all questions will be answered and sent back to the questioner. Really? After traveling 1500 miles to ask and hear the questions that my members wanted answered. That’s the response?
I was even more surprised since the ACWV Chair, Shirley Quarles have been the Chair for more than five years that this would happen. Who is accountable? The Chair or Director of CWV?
This type of format only increases the distrust the Veteran community has in the VA.