In August 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom appointed Virginia Wimmer as CalVet’s Deputy Secretary of Women Veterans Affairs at CalVet.
A veteran who spent 26 years in the United States Air Force, Wimmer left the service in 2012. She then began her new career as a veteran service officer with Solano County and then was appointed as the County Veteran Service Officer (CVSO) for San Joaquin County.
Now with Women’s Military History Week upon us, Wimmer shares about her first six months at CalVet, and some of her plans for Women Veterans Affairs in the future.
What have you learned about CalVet in your first six months as Deputy Secretary?
WIMMER: I am used to being part of a small team and having to rely on larger units to reinforce our mission. I am grateful for my teammates at CalVet who have a shared vision on inclusiveness and respect for women veterans. Since being appointed in August, it has been rewarding and challenging.
I have learned so much about CalVet and our state. I have made new friends and garnered a new perspective of the many services that are available to women across the state and am proud to be a part of such a progressive agenda that includes elevating women and especially honoring women veterans.
How has your background as both a veteran and County Veterans Service Officer helped thus far?
WIMMER: My intention is to carry on the great work the program has accomplished thus far; but, of course, use my skills as a direct service provider and veterans advocate. (Having been) a CVSO has provided me with the insight and experience I need to connect with women veterans on a micro-level while still providing robust advocacy on a macro-level.
Secondly, I fully understand that this assignment means partnering with other California agencies, non-profit and for-profit organizations, and community-based organizations.
It is my duty to identify these organizations and people who are willing to help CalVet reach women veterans. I also understand it will be a hard task to corral these agencies and organizations so that we are all working in a coordinated fashion – but I am more than willing to accept the challenge.
One thing I have learned since arriving at CalVet is that in spite of the many resources and services that are available to our women veterans, we still struggle with getting them to take advantage of them all.
I plan to change this narrative. I want all 163,000-plus women veterans in the state to know and understand that benefits, services, and resources are available for them, and that CalVet Women Veterans Affairs is here to help them connect to these benefits and services.
Give us an example of how you might achieve that particular goal.
WIMMER: We have to enroll in VA healthcare, participate in the surveys, public comment periods, and we need to have our voices heard.
We women veterans must tell our stories in our own voices and from our hearts. We can no longer allow our “HerStory” to be told from the masculine warrior paradigm perspective. Our stories must be documented, recorded, and shared from our own perspectives.
Women have served in every war since this country’s existence so we should not be excluded from any of the decisions made that enrich the lives of veterans. Women should never be an after-thought nor should systems, equipment, services processes, procedures, or VA facilities be retrofitted to serve us. We must be included in all decisions that affect us.
This is a priority for Women Veterans Affairs. We no longer want any systems to be retrofitted for our needs. We don’t want the VA, Department of Defense, or any other service provider to make decisions that don’t include the voices and stories of women veterans. Too often systems are put into place, buildings are erected, weapons systems are designed, and decisions are made without the perspective of the woman warfighter or the woman veteran’s perspective, input, or voice. That must stop.
I met recently with the President of the Women in Military Service Memorial, Phyllis J. Wilson, and the VA’s regional Women Veteran Program Managers to encourage California women to register their stories with the CalVet Women Voices project, the Memorial, and with the Library of Congress. I understand this is a huge undertaking and have no delusion that this is going to be a hard task.
What do California’s women veterans need to know about CalVet and its division for Women Veterans Affairs?
WIMMER: California’s women veterans need to know that while our division is small, we are mighty and we are ready to serve. Our mission is to ensure that every California woman who has served in the military knows that they have an advocate at CalVet and that many benefits and resources are available to them as a result of their military service.
Women veterans have always served this country and this state and deserve advocacy and inclusion across the state. CalVet Women Veterans Affairs wants to be the liaison across the state to bridge any potential service gaps.
What is your vision for Women Veterans Affairs? Where do you want to take it?
WIMMER: My vision for Women Veterans Affairs is to improve services and support for women veterans through robust collaboration with stakeholders and other programs within CalVet.
I also want to create a continuum of care community that eliminates sexual harassment, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and maltreatment of women veterans throughout their military life cycle.
I intend to champion vigorous advocacy, education, training, and insist on continuous dialogue with women veterans, veteran service providers, federal and state agencies, and non-governmental organizations. Additionally, my call to action for all Californians (veterans, non-veterans, and allies) is to help us connect with women veterans throughout the state.