BY CHERYL SLAVIN
Every day is Veterans Day for Anngela Vasser-Cooper, founder and CEO of the advocacy organization Women Veterans Association of Hudson Valley, Inc. An army veteran and a social worker, she knows only too well the daily challenges facing military personnel—and particularly, female personnel—returning from active duty at home or abroad. She founded her non-profit 501c3 to provide the personal, knowledgeable and compassionate care that all servicewomen and men deserve.
Anngela came to her combined path of active duty naturally—her father and other relatives had all served in the military, and her mother was active in community and church. Thus, after graduating from North Rockland High School in 1980, Anngela enlisted in the army, earning the rank of Specialist. She served in such diverse locations as Korea, Alaska and Japan until 1983, when she entered the New York National Guard and served until 1986. In 1995 she earned her associate’s degree from Rockland Community College, and went on to achieve a master’s degree in social work from Fordham University.
Exposed as she was her whole life to so many different cultures, languages and ethnicities, Anngela learned important communication skills such as good listening, along with appreciation and respect for people of all backgrounds. This, along with her own experiences in the military, served her well when she became a VA hospital medical social worker. Anngela used the shared bond of military experience to reach out to the patients; more than once she became the go-to person hospital staff would call when a serviceman or woman was otherwise unresponsive or uncommunicative.
At the VA hospital Anngela also became increasingly cognizant of the particular needs of female veterans. Although the women shared in many of the same problems and disorders as their male counterparts, they also suffered from issues germane to their gender. Anngela realized that while equally serious, PTSD caused by surviving a rape is a very different animal than that caused by surviving an IED. Yet, doctors all too often treated them all the same.
After leaving the VA, Anngela knew she had to address this void in specific services geared toward the needs of female veterans. She founded the Women Veterans Association with the mission of promoting increased awareness of women’s contributions to the military as well as providing educational outreach and advocacy for veterans and their family members. Although she started the organization with women in mind, she quickly learned that servicemen wanted her help, too. She soon began to offer all support services to both genders.
One of Anngela’s main goals is to educate and guide veterans through the often heavily bureaucratic VA system. For example, returning vets might know about the GI bill, but still need help with the application process. Similarly, vets might not know about transitional employment programs, housing opportunities or mental health services. And for women there are a whole host of special medical services available to them, including gynecological and obstetrical care.
Anngela continually networks in order to meet those in charge of veterans’ benefits and legislation so that she can later leverage her connections on behalf of her clientele. And, unlike many organizations, she proactively reaches out to all veterans through such events as the National Guard yellow ribbon events, and other meetings for returning military. Her organization sponsors lectures and seminars which are both informational and social. She also continues to raise awareness of women’s contributions to the military by hosting a visit each year to the Womens Military Memorial in Washington, DC, and by marching with female vets in the New York City Veterans Day Parade.
However, perhaps the most important service Anngela provides is a willing ear and a helping hand. Her organization provides a safe place for women to connect to each other and share their mutual experiences without fear of stigma or judgment. She estimates that over the past two years she has personally assisted about 50 to 60 people navigate the serpentine VA bureaucracy.
Help is just a phone call or email away: 845-480-5660 or, [email protected] Anngela will talk to any vet about any problem or need. Those interested can also visit her Facebook page, Women Veterans Assoc. of Hudson Valley, Inc.
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