How an injury led to advocacy for women veterans

Women veterans with spinal cord injuries or disorders make up a small, but important population among women veterans. In America, women account for about 20 percent of spinal cord injuries. Among women veterans, that number shrinks to three percent. Because this cohort is so small, the Department of Veterans Affairs had not developed much in the way of women-specific equipment, training, or research. Tammy Jones decided to change that.

A role of service

Tammy L. Jones knew she was meant to serve in the military. Her father served in the Army when she was little and she participated in both the Army and Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. Ironically, she joined the US Air Force and was serving in England as a maintenance scheduler for F-111 aircraft. She was traveling by car when a tire blew and the vehicle flipped three times, tragically cutting her service short, leaving her with a spinal cord injury resulting in quadriplegia. 

She spent three months stabilizing in Stoke Mandeville Hospital Spinal Injuries Center in England.  Then transferred to the James A. Haley VA Medical Center, a Department of Veterans Affairs Spinal Cord Unit in Tampa, Florida. Almost immediately, Tammy began to ask about addressing the needs of women veterans with Spinal Cord Injuries (SCI). With the focus on integrating the needs rather than building separate systems for women and men.

Not identifying as a veteran

Like many women veterans, Tammy did not immediately identify as a veteran herself. She had seen her father and uncles that served in wars as veterans. Not herself, she had never served in a war. It took a while for her to learn and understand that she herself had earned that title of veteran. And in time began identifying as a woman veteran.

Tammy never let her injuries slow her down. Within a year of her injury, Tammy became a peer support specialist for individuals in the VA system with spinal cord injury, especially women veterans, and has continued to provide support for three decades. 

A few years later, while attending Chattanooga State Technical Community College, Tammy helped form an organization for individuals with disabilities to help them enjoy sports, arts, and recreation. While this organization was originally intended for students of the school, the need was so great for services like this that the organization quickly became a community organization. While serving in this role, Tammy met with women who had lived with spinal cord injuries their whole lives, which allowed her to see some of the differences in treatment and needs among women with acquired disabilities. 

In the mid-1990’s Tammy became a Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) subchapter president and was later asked to join the board as a secretary. She worked as a hospital liaison for PVA and enjoyed working with the hospital to improve care for women veterans with SCI, also working to improve communication between the women veteran clinic and the SCI spoke and hub system, including the need for improvement in family planning and care for veterans with SCI.

In, 1999, she married the love of her life, Dale. A move for Dale’s work brought Tammy to San Diego, where she served as chapter secretary and hospital liaison for the Cal Diego PVA chapter followed by working in San Antonio as a satellite director along with friend and fellow veteran Anne Robinson. She began working with the PVA Field Advisory Committee, working with site visit teams to coordinate visits. 

It was in this role that Tammy was encouraged to run for a position in the PVA National Executive Committee. In 2018, Tammy was elected as a PVA Vice President. In her short time in this role, she worked to establish the Anita Bloom Women Veterans Health Committee, a national committee of Paralyzed Veterans of America. In the Fall of 2019, through the diligent work of the Anita Bloom Committee, PVA hosted the PVA’s Women’s Empowerment Retreat.

Tammy is also a frequent visitor to Capitol Hill, advocating for the improvement and understanding of the unique health care needs of women veterans with spinal cord injuries and diseases. She also represents PVA on the Department of Veterans Affairs Prosthetics Women Veterans Emphasis Work Group.

Tammy’s sustained efforts throughout the decades have improved the lives of women veterans with SCI. She is working to empower other women veterans to take up the mantle and carry forward as advocates.

Tammy is also my friend. She has a giggle that melts the toughest of hearts and hugs that make you feel truly loved. I met her are the inaugural annual Anita Bloom Women Veterans Empowerment Retreat and her kindness, humor, and love of fun won me over immediately. It has been my honor to highlight.

Maureen Elias is a US Army veteran, military spouse, and proud mother of three. She currently serves as a Professional Staff Member for the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Disability Assistance, and Memorial Affairs subcommittee, Majority. She also teaches storytelling to veterans, service members, caregivers, and their families with the Armed Services Arts Partnership.






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