Mountain Home VA features women veterans' art

Becky Campbell • Mar 14, 2017 at 12:00 AM

There was a time when Gail Burnett was not proud of her service in the Marines.

The shame came from experiences during her service, parts that she loved and parts that she hated. After an honorable discharge, Burnett put that all behind her and pushed it into the far recesses of her memory. It wasn’t until she began quilting and giving those quilts away to other veterans that her healing began and her pride came through.

Burnett and thousands of other women veterans will be celebrated this month at the Mountain Home VA. March is Women’s History month, and Mountain Home will celebrate with a Women’s Health Expo next week. The expo, Thursday at the Mountain Home VA Medical Center, will feature presentations on health-related topics, community resources and an exhibit featuring art by women veterans.

It’s free and open to the public, Medlin said, but if anyone can’t attend Thursday’s special event, they can still stop in to see the art displays through the month. Also, all the videos are available at https://goo.gl/p9mJvP.

“Mountain Home was selected as one of 10 VAs across the country to host this art exhibit,” Women Veterans Program Manager Rita Medlin said. “The art display is being sponsored by Center for Women Veterans and Veterans Artist Program.”

Ten pieces of art created by female veterans are featured on a storyboard with a photo of the veteran and a short bio to explain her military experience and creative journey through art.

But visitors will be able to do more than just look at the art and read the bio. Each piece is embedded with a chip that contains a video of the veteran telling her own story. The video is accessed using a smartphone and an application called Layar. It’s a free download. To use it, simply open the app, point the phone at the art and the app will prompt the user to scan. When the scan is finished, the video pops up on the phone.

“Our goal is that this art exhibit will bring awareness to our own VA staff and to the general public about the contributions and sacrifices that our women veterans have made for our country,” Medlin said. “We want to bring some recognition to our women veterans and make them feel more appreciated by seeing themselves prominently featured. Additionally we hope if a female veteran has not applied for care at our facility, they will drop by and see what we have to offer.”

Some of the actual art by local veterans will be on display without the storyboards, including quilts Burnett has made. Sharing her gift of quilt making gives Burnett a peace she hadn’t known before, evident in the way she’s affected when she talks about it. Her eyes well up, but it’s not from sadness. It’s from the overwhelming contentment she feels when she hands over her gift.

Burnett is just one of more than 2 million women who have served or are serving in the various branches of the United States military. 

“Generations of women veterans have honorably served in the military,” VA spokeswoman Judy Fowler said. “They have become four-star generals, commanded ships, earned the Medal of Honor and piloted space shuttles. Their success does not stop when they take off their uniform. They continue to serve as leaders of nonprofits, government, businesses and communities.”

The VA’s motto for Women’s History Month — Respect, Reflect, Recognize — honors females who have served since 1775.

Some statistical information about women veterans, according to Fowler:

• Women first served in combat during the Revolutionary War.

• More than 400 women fought in the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War.

• During World War I, approximately 35,000 women served.

• In World War II, 140,000 women served in the U.S. Army and the Women's Army Corps, and over 1,000 women flew aircraft for the Women's Air Force Service Pilots.

• During the Vietnam War, 7,000 American military women served in Southeast Asia, the majority of them nurses.

• Some 40,000 American military women were deployed during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

• About 280,000 women have served in Afghanistan or Iraq since September 11, 2001.

“The VA is grateful for their service and committed to providing women veterans the care and services they have earned and deserve,” Fowler said. “There are more than two million women veterans. … Women are the fastest growing group in the veteran population.”

The VA also has a unique approach to health care for women veterans. Each one is assigned to one designated women’s health provider to coordinate care, and provide primary care and gender-specific care, Fowler said.

“The VA’s medical staffs are experts in providing medical care and services beyond primary care, including mammography, gynecology, breast and cervical cancer screening, military sexual trauma-related care and counseling,” Fowler said. “In addition, VA offers maternity-care coordination and maternity and newborn services through care in the community.”

The art exhibit and community resource tables open at 11 a.m. Thursday, and the speakers begin at 1 p.m. in the main hospital building, Room A-061-K on the basement level. The event is free and open to the public.

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