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Women veterans’ needs get recognized

BRADENTON — Winnie Schroeder and Michelle Stumpo sat near each other at Friday’s Women Veterans Network luncheon, listening intently to Larri Gerson.

Schroeder, 66, was a Navy nurse during the Vietnam War.

Stumpo, 38, was an Air Force K-9 handler from 1990 to 1997.

Gerson is a veterans claims examiner for the State of Florida, which is third behind California and Texas in the number of women’s veterans (133,952) and growing.

As an advocate for women veterans benefits, Gerson informed her audience about all they were now entitled to.

“We, as women veterans, normally take care of others before we think of ourselves,” Gerson said at Nicki’s West 59th Restaurant. “Now our country is recognizing us. Nobody did before.”

Schroeder can relate.

A nurse for 2 1/2-years and Navy lieutenant, she was the family breadwinner while her husband went to college. Although his female classmates were married to servicemen and considered dependents, he was not.

“It was discrimination, but the law was the husband was considered head of the household, so he could not be a dependent. No hospitalization. No benefits. Nothing. Then I got pregnant and the Navy discharged me,” Schroeder said. “Hard to believe in this day and age.”

That’s all changed, Gerson said.

Schroeder learned she is still eligible for veterans benefits. “Larri enlightened us,” she said. “We felt like our service mattered.”

Stumpo’s experience was different from Schroeder’s.

Injured on the job, she was able get necessary assistance from the Veterans Administration.

“I did what I had to do. I jumped through the hoops,” said Stumpo. “They put me through rehab. I had a good person who took care of my medical and my education benefits. The military was very good to me.”

Now a registered nurse, she is a compensated disabled veteran who receives health care and school benefits.

”What Winnie went through, we would never tolerate now,” Stumpo said. “There are more resources out there people need to be made aware of and it’s important we take advantage of them.”

Which was Gerson’s mission Friday.

“Before we had a problem with outreach,” she said. “The only way to do it with women veterans is one-on-one or groups like this. That’s why it takes longer, but we’re making headway.

“I believe every woman here knows other women veterans who need to know about these benefits.”

Larri Gerson can be contacted at (727) 319-7400.

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055, or write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, FL 34206 or e-mail him at vmannix@bradenton.com. Please include a phone number for verification.

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