Late last month, a very special event in the Alaska State Capitol took place. The Women Veterans Fund was announced to benefit the Alaska Veterans Organization for Women (AVOW). Learn more in this post.

Photo left to right: Co-Chair Joint Veterans' Caucus, Representative Steve Thompson; Rasmuson Fundation Board members Natasha von Imhof and Anthony Mallott; founder Alaska Veterans Organization for Women (AVOW), Vanessa Meade; Alaska Governor Sean Parnell; Rasmuson Foundation president Diane Kaplan and staff Jordan Marshall; and Co-Chair Joint Veterans' Caucus, Senate President Charlie Huggins. Photo taken by: Jeremiah Campbell, Alaska State House Majority Press

The mood was upbeat and jovial as camera flashes, shutter clicks, and warm accolades marked the conclusion of a very special event in the Alaska State Capitol late last month. It was standing-room only in the Speaker’s Chambers for the announcement of a newly endowed fund at The Alaska Community Foundation to support women veterans. As Senate President Charlie Huggins and Representative Steve Thompson, Co-Chairs of the Joint Veterans Caucus, gathered the assembled veterans and active military personnel together for a handshake and photos with Governor Sean Parnell, I overheard an informal exchange that underscored the importance of the event.

“A rush of memories came back to me as you spoke,” an attendee told Vanessa Meade, Operation Desert Storm military police veteran, founder of Alaska Veterans Organization for Women (AVOW), and one of the key civilian veteran honorees at the ceremony. “I completely understand the reason you started AVOW.”

AVOW was created by Meade and others who believe that women military veterans have unique perspectives and experiences relating to their military service. “Our vision is to support women veterans through advocacy, collaboration and empowerment,” Meade remarked, “to encourage connection with one another and our communities. Through acknowledging and honoring Alaska women veterans’ experiences and achievements, we support and affirm the contributions of all veterans in our country.

“Women veterans many times are invisible. Once we go back to our communities there’s a high percentage of women who are also single parents, so they go back into their communities and back into parenting. And there are some hardships that occur for women veterans. Sixty percent of women veterans have experienced some form of military sexual trauma. Military sexual trauma is defined by anything from sexual harassment to sexual assault. Also, 53 percent of homeless women veterans have experienced that. Homeless women veterans are the leading growing population in the veterans community right now.”

It troubles me to think what memories might have been the source of the comment I overheard at the conclusion of the day’s program, but I think it’s safe to say that we all owe a debt of gratitude to Meade for organizing and establishing support for women veterans in order to help curb the statistics she shared and help women veterans reach out to each other.

View photos here or view the entire 30-min ceremony by following this link to 360North’s Gavel to Gavel archive. To learn more about AVOW, check out U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski Veterans Spotlight featuring Vanessa Meade here.

The Women Veterans Fund is endowed with $500,000 from Rasmuson Foundation in honor of Mary Louise Rasmuson, former board member, 20-year U.S. Army veteran, and the fifth director of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC).