Honoring female veterans: VA clinic recognizes local women in military service

HARLINGEN — For many women veterans, recognition of their service has been long overdue.

Many say it’s been only in the past few years they’ve felt honored.

“I think it’s vital that women veterans are recognized for our role in the defense of our country,” said former Army Sgt. Lupita Perez, an Edcouch-Elsa area resident who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“Women have actually been in every crisis and every war the United States has ever been in. Women have been side-by-side with men as far back as Korea. But it’s only been in recent years that our role is really being recognized.

“So, I think it’s about time.”

The VA Health Care Center at Harlingen did its part yesterday by holding its first official ceremony honoring women in military service.

The ceremony in the lobby of the center at 2601 Veterans Drive coincided with the start of National Women’s History Month.

The event honored female veterans from throughout the Rio Grande Valley community as well as women veterans who serve their fellow veterans at the VA Health Care Center and VA outpatient clinic.

Perez was among the honored guests, along with retired Capt. Janice Whitehead, who served with the U.S. Army Nurse Corps in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969, and eight other veterans.

“I just feel so blessed to be honored in this way and to get to meet other female veterans,” said Whitehead, a San Benito resident.

“As a Vietnam veteran, I feel the recognition has been needed. It’s only been in, say, the past 10 years that Vietnam veterans have been made to feel welcome home.”

The ceremony included the presentation of the colors by the Harlingen High School all-female Army JROTC color guard, singing of the national anthem and invocation and an awards presentation to nine women veterans who are leaders in the community, including Perez.

It concluded with a walking tour of 28 portraits of women veterans on the third floor of the center. The VA had invited women veterans from throughout the region to visit the center to have their portraits taken.

Whitehead’s portrait is among them, along with veterans from Harlingen and Brownsville.

The ceremony was a first for the VA Health Care Center here, said former Army Spc. Laura Vela, a staff accountant at the center who helped organize the event.

“I think it’s awesome we get the opportunity to recognize not only the women veterans in the community but also the women veterans who work here,” Vela said.

“A lot of people have started honoring women veterans. There is more awareness of female veterans coming back from active deployment and taking on leadership roles in their community.

“And this event is a reflection of that.”