The Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs (ODVA) is honored to announce it received a prestigious national award earlier this month for a leading, innovative project spotlighting the diversity and contributions of women veterans.
Oregon was one of seven states to receive the 2021 Abraham Lincoln Pillars of Excellence Award. Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (USDVA) Donald Remy presented the award to ODVA Director Kelly Fitzpatrick at the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs (NASDVA) annual conference held in Reno, Nev. The award was developed in partnership by the USDVA and NASDVA to create programs that effectively deliver seamless, high‐impact continuum of care and services at the federal and state levels.
“I Am Not Invisible (IANI),” a traveling photo exhibit featuring portraits and bios of 20 Oregon women veterans from diverse backgrounds and eras of service, was a joint effort of the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs and Portland State University’s Veterans Resource Center in 2017.
The project debuted at the Portland Art Museum in February of that year and has since exhibited nationally, touring dozens of cities in Oregon and other states. In October 2017, the IANI photo exhibit was honored to be displayed in the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building near the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.
The project aimed to increase awareness of the women veterans who live among us in our communities and to highlight the contribution that women veterans have made to our nation while they were in uniform — and after their military service. The campaign resonated with women veterans across the nation who celebrated the theme “I Am Not Invisible” by volunteering to participate in photo exhibits duplicated by 42 cities and 25 other state DVAs as well as the USDVA, whose project encompassed all 50 states, 75 cities, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and 27 Native American/Alaska Native nations to capture images of more than 3,000 women veterans.
“Words cannot express my pride that this ODVA concept has made such a deep and meaningful impact, raising the profile of so many outstanding women veterans and service members and helping shift the conversation on the role of and outreach to women veterans,” said Fitzpatrick, the first woman to lead the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs in its 76-year history.
“As far as we have come, successes like this also bring into focus how far we have yet to go. Since the Revolutionary War, women have served their country with the same courage, dedication and sacrifice as their male counterparts, yet they are still too often denied the recognition and access to health care and other benefits that they have earned. Projects like ‘I Am Not Invisible’ are part of the necessary conversation to truly open the aperture of who we innately recognize, and therefore serve, as a veteran of the United States Armed Forces.”
As a leader in special advocacy services for veterans, Oregon in 2016 became one of the first states to create a veteran services program to serve and advocate for the unique experiences and needs of the estimated 28,000 women veterans across the state.
For more information about resources and benefits available to Oregon women veterans and their families, or to connect with the Women Veterans Coordinator, visit www.oregon.gov/odva/resources/pages/women-veterans.aspx.