Remember the Ladies: VNA Foundation’s Women Veterans Health Project

In the fall of 2013, the VNA Foundation of Chicago announced its support of a new special initiative, a little out-of-the-ordinary for the foundation, which would seek to ease the transition of veterans from combat to civilian life, specifically women veterans. And though the VNA Foundation is a champion for enhancing healthcare access in and around Chicago, and though it maintains a series of special initiatives apart from its usual grant roster, we must admit we were surprised to see it taking on this problem. VNAF’s grant to support the Women’s Veteran Health Project is, after all, the largest grant awarded in the organization’s 100+-year history. News-worthy indeed.

The grant was $150,000—not large by RWJF standards, but sizable for little VNAF, with grants usually amounting to a few thousand here and there. And for the organization, which has faithfully and almost universally stuck to funding important but quiet nursing projects in the past, committing such sizable and public support to this program seems like a step out from behind the curtain for the funder.

Veterans’ mental health seems to be about the only realm of mental health giving that’s getting airtime right now, with funders like Bristol-Myers Squibb and Schultz getting into the game. Funding something in the buzzy realm of veterans’ mental health, adding in a minority focus, and working with one of Chicago’s best and most highly-regarded social services organization? (Thresholds, btw.) Well, that’s cause for… maybe not celebration, exactly, but at least some good press.

The program is founded on the premise that a returning female vet often faces more complicated challenges than her male counterpart. Childcare is a big factor, but also the nuances of a woman’s journey to overcoming PTSD and the all-too-common Military Sexual Trauma (MST) can present bumps in the road as a woman struggles to readjust to civilian life. The Women Veterans Health Project integrates social services like employment training and housing assistance with proven mental health strategies like cognitive restructuring therapies and PTSD treatment.

Though the ball is just getting rolling, it will be very interesting to see how this program unfolds, and what implications its success may have for the future of the VNA Foundation.