‘Saving one lady veteran at a time’: Lexington non-profit gives hope to a forgotten veteran community

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WINCHESTER, Ky. (FOX 56/) – Within the Veteran community is a subgroup of female veterans who feel forgotten about, but Lexington non-profit, Lady Veterans Connect, is combatting the issue head-on.

Lady Veterans Connect (‘LVC’) opened in 2016 and has since helped over 500 female veterans transition back into civilian life in Kentucky. At the start of 2021, LVC opened a second location in Winchester, Ky. to house 32 female veterans.

Founded by Phyllis Abbott, Lady Veterans Connect has served as a transitional healing home for female veterans who face a disconnect from the larger veteran community.

“The primary thing is that we’re giving them a safe place for healing. We have it structured more as a home environment where they have not had that for a while, so they can come here and feel safe. When they feel safe they can share their stories, and that begins the healing process,” founder Abbott said.

As society tends to see female veterans differently than men, they consequently face a unique set of hardships. FOX 56 spoke with the staff at LVC to learn more in-depth about those hardships.

“We are here for the veterans. Mostly the lady veterans because they’re like a little community that’s forgotten about,” retired Navy Petty Officer Fran Howard said.

Howard formally served as a Third Class boatswain mate. She couldn’t find a job post-retirement and became homeless. She belonged to the 15% of female veterans living in poverty, a statistic from The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Retired Naval Petty Officer Fran Howard speaking on the issue of homelessness within the female veteran community.

In Abbott’s experience, she has seen that female veterans often do not identify as a “veteran.” She says that disconnect contributes to female veterans as the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population.

“That’s sad at my age to be homeless, and there’s no programs out there that’s geared to help me as a female veteran,” Howard said.

Howard also said she was constantly told that ‘she didn’t matter’ after retiring, and was exhausted by the dead-ends she ran into when trying to seek help from different agencies. She was displaced until she met Abbott, and was offered shelter at Lady Veterans Connect.

Today, Howard is now serving as the ‘Housemother’ at the Winchester location.

Among the 500 females that LVC has helped is combat veteran Andrea Kaichi.

“I wanted to become a functioning member of society again,” Kaichi said. She found transitioning back into society especially challenging due to her Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (‘PTSD’).

After leaving battle in Iraq, she came home to face a custody battle for her children.

“I realized I had so much anger and rage, and hate in me that it wasn’t the best place for them to stay with me. And that was hard because then you get judged as a bad mom. Like why don’t you have your kids? Well, you don’t know what I’ve been through,” Kaichi said.

The shame of her PTSD caused her mental health to spiral.

Retired Combat Veteran Andrea Kaichi served two tours in Iraq and now helps other veterans with their PTSD and mental health.

“I wouldn’t say there was something wrong with me, I was just changed. My brain had been rewired. And it was hard to come back because that adrenaline that you get like I survived war, I survived someone hitting my gun truck,” Kaichi said.

Today, Kaichi says her family is in a much better place and she continues her healing at LVC. She dedicates her time to helping female veterans tackle their issues with mental health, an issue that she believes needs the most attention.

“People don’t want to talk about it, they don’t want people to know they have a mental health issue. If people talk more about it and not make it such a taboo, then people can release those strings and not hold onto them,” Kaichi said.

Working alongside Howard and Kaichi is retired Naval Petty Officer Ronea Fowler.

Fowler entered the Navy as a divorced mother of two and says the military became her new family.

However, she soon faced an abrupt end to her service when she was dismissed for not meeting the weight standards. Fowler said she was completing her runs and keeping up with her training. All of which did not matter because her body mass was still over the military’s limits.

Officer Ronea Fowler shares her official portrait before she was dismissed from the Navy due to body weight.

When Fowler was dismissed, she was left with even deeper scars from being sexually assaulted during her time in service. Fowler is one of the 40% of female soldiers who survived military sexual assault (MST), but at one point, she battled being suicidal.

“That made me feel like a failure and it landed me flat on my face, and there wasn’t really a support network specifically for that,” Officer Fowler said.

Fowler realized that there needed to be a living-work center for veterans. Her path soon crossed with Abbott at a gala in 2018. Today, she is the Director at LVC.

“It gives me a strength that I can pass on to others,” Officer Fowler said.

Recently, Abbott testified via Zoom before the House of Representatives – Committee on Veteran Affairs, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity recommending programs to target the issues mentioned above.

As part of their own efforts back here in Kentucky, LVC will soon be launching a new program called, “Battle Buddy” to connect female veterans together and provide them with a sustainable support system, while addressing their individual needs.

Each female veteran represents not one, but a blend of issues still needing advocacy and attention in the military community.

With their comradery at LVC, each female veteran is able to partner up and pay it forward as “sheroes” here on home turf.

“We’re changing lives, we’re saving lives, one lady veteran at a time.”

To learn more about Lady Veterans Connect and help a female veteran plug into valuable resources here in Kentucky, visit Lady Veterans Connect | Home. Hope. Healing. (lv-connect.org)

Lady Veterans Connect preparing for their November Yard Sale at their Winchester Location.

Upcoming Event

LVC is hosting a yard sale Friday, November 12 from 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. and Saturday, November 13 from 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. at Anna’s House, 11400 Irvine Rd, Winchester, Ky. 40391. The profits will help pay for their facilities’ utilities.

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