“Your story matters,” said Viviana DeCohen, director of the New York State Division of Veterans’ Services, and during an event held on March 4 that recognized Women Veterans and caretakers that are providing care for a veteran, with some having served themselves.
Dozens of guests attended the recognition luncheon last Saturday, held at the American Legion Post in Owego, despite a surprise snowstorm the evening before that caused some travel delays for the event’s guest speaker, DeCohen. There were also several local dignitaries in attendance to include Martha Sauerbrey, chair of the Tioga County Legislature; William Standinger, District 7 legislator; and Dean Morgan, Town of Owego. Certificates signed by Assemblyman Christopher Friend and Senator Thomas O’Mara were also presented.
Things began with words from Michael Middaugh, director of the Tioga County Veterans’ Service Agency; the reading of the poem, A Women Veteran’s Day; the Invocation by Sister Mary O’Brien, from Tioga County Rural Ministry; lunch, catered by Phil’s Chicken House; and then the keynote speaker, who herself is a United States Marine Corps Veteran. The event concluded with individual recognition to veterans and caregivers in attendance, and then door prizes, information regarding services, and tokens of appreciation.
As for the keynote speaker, Viviana DeCohen was appointed in December of 2021 as Director of the New York State Division of Veterans’ Services. A veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, DeCohen previously served as the Commissioner of the Mount Vernon Veterans Service Agency. She is also the Associate Pastor at Mt. Vernon Heights Congregational Church.
DeCohen has dedicated her time and talent assisting veterans, ensuring food, shelter, clothing, education, employment and a little motivation, earning her the affectionate title of “Mama V” to those she has helped throughout the years.
DeCohen’s military service allowed her to earn a Bachelor’s in Behavioral Science and a Master’s in Health Service Management, both from Mercy College. She is the Veteran Affairs 2021 Trailblazer, and you can learn more at www.va.gov/womenvet/cmv/trailblazers2021.asp.
Last Saturday, and during DeCohen’s address to the guests that gathered, she emphasized her words, “Thank you for your service,” and talked of the reach of those served. “You served your country, your family, and your community,” said DeCohen. “Your service didn’t end when you left the military.”
This was evident as women that served in Iraq and foreign wars, those care-taking elderly veterans, and guests that arrived to recognize them felt some camaraderie that afternoon, many sharing stories at the table where they were seated with other guests in attendance.
And during Women’s History Month, the recognition luncheon was fitting, and a good lead into recognizing those that cleared the path for the trailblazers, like DeCohen.
Information was shared by the Veterans’ Service Agency, and was set up in a display in the center of the room for the event. Issues like PTSD and Veteran Suicide Prevention were highlighted in the materials, and a challenge coin was presented.
For women, being a veteran can also be a challenge, and due to the fact that the average person will often assume that men are the only ones that serve.
In her poem, A Women Veteran’s Day, Terri Stouder, U.S. veteran, illustrates these struggles. The following is the poem.
A Women Veteran’s Day
Terri L. Souder, U.S. Army MP Corps veteran
They have a day for that, he said…
It’s in November and it’s called Veterans Day,
But he never served.
We don’t distinguish between male and female here, he said…
If you served you’re a veteran,
But he only saw women in office and medical jobs when he was in uniform.
She puts on her veteran hat to go shopping with her veteran spouse and they are stopped by a random stranger…
Her partner is thanked for his service while she is ignored,
But she is supposed to ‘soldier on’.
She parks in a spot designated for veterans…
With a lift on the back of the car that clearly says “VETERAN,”
But she is told she shouldn’t park there unless her spouse is actually in the car.
She goes to the club for a service meeting…
And is approached by the district president of the auxiliary,
Because in a Veteran Service Organization, if you’re a woman you must be a spouse.
She goes to the VA to check in for an appointment…
And the person at the desk never looks up, as they say, “How can I help you, Sir?”
Because if you’re there for treatment, you must be a man.
She goes to Arlington for an event at the Military Women’s Memorial…
And sees a sign in the bathroom stall stating that,
Unlike all the other memorials, it isn’t part of the National Parks Service and is funded by donations.
She periodically wonders why she ever put a uniform on…
To defend the Constitution or the United States,
Against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
She tries to remember why she raised her hand…
Swore an oath and signed a blank check to the country,
To include giving her life, if necessary.
Then it happens, it FINALLY happens…
While being interviewed for the historical archives at the MWM,
The man on the other side of the camera says, “Your story matters.”