American Legion Assistant Director for Health Policy, Denise Williams, recently attended the fourth National Conference on Women, Addiction and Recovery, in Chicago. The intent of the conference was to address the best possible services for women with substance use disorder, mental health illness, sexual trauma and homelessness. All the issues were examined on a broad perspective through plenary presentations, and then the group was broken down into facilitated discussion, workshops and demonstrations.
One of the group discussions included women veterans and service providers who highlighted the fact that female veterans encounter the same issues as their male counter-parts - issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, injury, emotional trauma associated with separation and reintegration, and substance abuse. For many women, these issues are exacerbated by other trauma, including sexual assault and discrimination. Despite the growing need, there continues to be a lack of gender-appropriate support services. The group also addressed strength-based, culturally appropriate treatment/recovery supports and innovative social media engagement and support used to address their needs.
In addition, one group concentrated on the core competencies for behavioral health staff and how current knowledge can be integrated into the education, credentialing and training of staff working with women. Another session addressed the barriers to employment and strategies for integrating employment services with treatment and recovery systems for women with substance abuse and co-occurring disorders. The sessions also highlighted vocational employment support services jobs, development and how to incorporate employment issues into everyday practices. Another facilitated discussion confronted the issue of homeless women with children who are struggling with addiction. The group engaged in a discussion about different styles to consider and best practices in sober housing for women and children. The sober housing offers women and children an alternative to living environments where drugs, alcohol and violence are present.
The American Legion was able to make contact with members from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs, who expressed interest in collaborating with the Legion in the future on some of these issues that affects women veterans.