Hide no more. Women veterans finally have a voice at their own table—in Suffolk County—with the latest installment of the Women Veterans Advisory Board.
“As chairwoman of the Legislature’s Veterans Committee, I work to ensure that the voices of all of our veterans are heard and their concerns are addressed,” said Legis. Susan A. Berland, explaining the reasoning behind forming the new board. “I sponsored this resolution to provide female veterans with a protected space to discuss issues that pertain to them. I look forward to the great work this advisory board will to do on behalf of Suffolk County’s female veterans.”
Patchogue resident and Marine veteran StaceyAnn Castro-Tapler was recruited by Berland (D) to help form the new board, after she couldn’t figure out why there was a lack of women veteran participation.
Castro-Tapler, who by day works closely with veterans at the Economic Opportunity Council of Suffolk Inc., said the answer was simple: women veterans will not self -identify as veterans, especially in front of an all-male board.
“The entire veteran organization has been built men-centric. Not that it’s a bad thing, but we have this demographic of women who aren’t getting the services they need,” she said, explaining that women weren’t going to attend without their own board. “They are tired of explaining and justifying their needs, as women.”
Now, she is on a mission to help drag women veterans out from hiding. She explained that she wants to help them have a voice while also getting the services they need.
Castro-Tapler served in the Marines from 2001-2004 and is currently the president of the Long Island Women Marine Association. She said she originally enlisted for education purposes, but went on active duty after Sept. 11 to “be there for her country.” She then served as a firefighter and went on to a deployment in Kuwait and served in OIF-OEF.
After coming home, she soon became pregnant, and tried to adapt to civilian life believing there were few women veterans in the area. Then, after being pushed to attend an event at the VA, she checked herself in as what she thought to be the only woman Marine. To her surprise, she was met with 10 others.
“That opened up a whole new world for me,” she said.
Then, after talking with some of the vets and being particularly taken with a WWII woman veteran, she found out the Women’s Marine Association had been recently disbanded due to lack of members.
“But what was really a kick in the [butt], was that I found out that women lived a block down from me and all this time these women needed me, they were my sisters and they were alone,” she said, inspired to promise to do whatever she could to be there for women veterans. “Being connected to each other is the best healing we are going to get.”
Fast-forward to about four months ago, and the Women Veterans Advisory Board was unanimously signed into legislation on June 18. Now, each branch of the Legislature is tasked with finding a veteran to serve as a member. Castro-Tapler was Berland’s first pick. Berland and Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone announced her new position at her third annual 5K for Fighters race held last month in Patchogue in support of homeless women veterans.
Castro-Tapler lives in Patchogue with her husband, two stepchildren and son, and will now serve as a member of the first-ever Suffolk County Women Veterans Advisory Board. The board will meet quarterly. All meetings, she said, are open and all women veterans are encouraged to join.
“It’s time to have their voices heard,” she added. “I want them to stop hiding and have their needs met.”
Patchogue resident Cathie Norton Doherty was also among one of the first of the 11 members to be appointed by Legis. Tom Cilmi. She served active duty in the Navy from 1990-92 and the reserves until 1998. She is also a Navy veteran’s wife and the mother of a Navy vet. Together, they have two children.
“For years now we have been trying to speak out and raise attention and awareness to the different issues we face,” she said, happy to finally have a women’s board.
The goals of the board, she hopes, will be to establish a women’s veteran shelter in a nice neighborhood in Suffolk County where women can bring their children, as well as better counseling services and a woman gynecologist at the VA (currently there is only a male doctor).
“Finally we have been heard. Not only did we get a seat at the table, but we got our own table, that we earned,” she added, proud of their accomplishments.
Resolutions have been laid on the table to appoint each member, and according to Berland’s office, should be voted on at the Nov. 26 General Meeting. The first meeting should be held sometime in December.